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Mount Washington Broadband Bill Awaits Governor's Signature
02:38PM / Friday, January 15, 2016
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MOUNT WASHINGTON, Mass. — A bill giving the town the right to set up its own broadband service now goes to the governor's desk after being enacted by the state Senate.

Under the leadership of state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, the Senate enacted S. 1978, An Act authorizing the town of Mount Washington to establish, own, and operate broadband infrastructure and services and to issue bonds or notes therefor.

Mount Washington plans to build and operate a modern, fiber-to-the-home network to provide high-speed Internet access to its residents.

This home rule petition, filed on behalf of Mount Washington by Downing and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, was approved by a majority of voters during a special town meeting on July 13, 2015. It was initially referred to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy for review and consideration and received a favorable report from the committee on Sept. 21, 2015.  Downing is the Senate chair of the joint committee.

The bill was engrossed by the Senate in October and advanced by Pignatelli in the House before receiving a final enactment vote in Thursday's informal Senate session.

S. 1978 authorizes the town of Mount Washington to establish, own and operate a broadband infrastructure project without establishing a municipal light plant. Further, the legislation grants the town authority to borrow funding to support the project for periods of up to 20 years.

While state law calls for a town to have or establish a municipal light plan in order to borrow funds to support construction of such infrastructure, Mount Washington's officials believe forming a municipal light plant would be unnecessary and onerous, given the size of their community.

A small town in the southwestern corner of Massachusetts, Mount Washington has less than 140 residents.

In testimony to the committee, the Mount Washington Select Board cited strong support within the community to allocate the necessary resources to move forward with the project. The board has developed a sound business plan, worked with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and hired counsel to assist with financial matters. To date, approximately half of Mount Washington residents have signed up for installation of high-speed Internet.

Gov. Charlie Baker has up to 10 days to review and sign it into law or return it with an amendment or veto.

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