This article originally appeared in the 5.14.15 issue of Metroland
Wonders never cease.
It looks like my mountain house in this tiny Berkshire mountain town is
gonna get some serious broadband internet.
We’re talking fiber, and we’re talking something like $50 a month.
I live in a
I don’t think any
cable providers serve the town, but some folks on the main roads get Verizon
Which sucks as far as serious
And since Verizon is
under no obligation to hook up everybody in town (like they are for landline
telephone), those of us who live off the beaten path have been stuck with
sucks as far as serious
First you need to put up
a dish to talk to the satellite – when I moved into my house I discovered I had
to pay $5000 to cut down the three huge trees that were blocking my
Then I got this slow satellite pretend
They say “lightening-fast
speeds up to 15 bps” but it’s more like 2-3 bps.
And it’s metered, like cellphone data, so
when I run out of my monthly allotment, I have to buy more.
And it’s expensive.
No Netflix for me! No Apple TV!
I had something called Wild Blue internet.
It would shut down about once a week, sending me to customer service
hell to find out what was wrong and when I might get my internet back.
Then last year my modem crapped out.
Wild Blue couldn’t manage to get someone to
bring me a new one, and they couldn’t just send me one, that’s too simple!
So after being dark for three weeks I
canceled my service and had the only other provider, Hughesnet, come out and
put another dish up, and now I’m back in business.
Slow, annoying, expensive business.
And when you cancel satellite service, they
don’t come take the dish down.
too much and even a dead dish is free advertising for the company that couldn’t
So one day soon I’ll go out with
a hacksaw and cut the damn thing down myself.
A couple of
years ago I heard that the state was putting fiber optic cables, supposedly
just about the fastest, highest capacity broadband portals there are, along
some main roads in rural Western Mass.
Like through my town.
didn’t matter, they weren’t hooking up houses, and they sure weren’t going up
the side roads.
Then there was the
announcement of something called Wired West, a not-for-profit looking to do
some kind of “public-private partnership” was trying to figure out a way to
provide “last mile” wiring so everybody had broadband.
pay much attention, really.
I was PO’d
that the phone and cable companies weren’t doing it.
This warm-fuzzy cooperative rah rah
“initiative” seemed like so much hopeless drivel.
Boy oh boy
was I wrong.
Wired West figured out that
under state law, if a town wanted to, it could form a “municipal light plant”
to provide utility services to its citizens.
The town could then use its low-cost municipal borrowing power to get
the money to build out the broadband infrastructure.
And if enough towns joined together on this,
the thing would pretty much pay for itself from subscriber fees.
There were conditions: 60% of the households
in each town needed to sign up and send in a $50 deposit, and the bond issue
needed to be approved by a 2/3 vote at a town meeting.
For a while I was thinking “good luck with
night we had our big town meeting to vote on this.
The fire hall was packed, SRO, and there were
a lot of faces some of my local friends didn’t recognize.
There was energy in the room.
After a pretty detailed presentation from
Wired West, the matter was put up for discussion.
Now, when I
moved to Massachusetts from New York in the early 2000’s I discovered something
about the ol’ Commonwealth:
like their participatory democracy over here.
All sorts of things that in New York would get decided by elected bodies
or election day ballots get elected over here in public meetings.
After a “public discussion.”
It’s a grand thing in principal; in practice
maybe not so much. Often times the attendance at the town meetings are less than
10% of the enrolled voters.
certainly wasn’t the case Friday.
there’s the “public discussion” part.
There’s a few in every crowd, and this being
a rather moneyed Noo Yawkah retirement town, there’s a few more than a
The questions came and came, not so
much in search of answers but to demonstrate one’s incisive brilliance to
friends and neighbors.
What if this?
What if that?
Are you aware that yadda
I almost yelled “What if
God and Superman had a fight, you self-important twits?” but I refrained.
couple hours it passed, nearly unanimously, as it has in a dozen other little
towns and as it will in a couple dozen more.
And in a couple of years, we’ll have fabulous internet, TV and
telephone, and we’ll own the company that’s providing it.
And you just can’t beat that, babe.
Paul Rapp is an IP
attorney who tends to get impatient with the democratic process, especially
after a few cocktails.