Broadband/Cable Advisory Committee members assured residents at their Jan. 8 meeting that they are listening to concerns from citizens, whose input is valuable.
Mountain Road resident Michael Shore expressed concern about adding the cost of high-speed Internet to his taxes. “I’m retired and I don’t need it. I’m happy with what I have and a lot of people feel that way in this town,” said Shore. “I don’t want it on my taxes,” he said. “If an individual wants it they should pay for it. A lot of people feel it should not be on their taxes.”
Shore said he came to the meeting because several local people are very concerned about the taxes. “We paid for Broadband already, [when the light department set up PMLD Broadband service], the windmills, the school expenses. The town’s history of doing business is not good.”
“We’re proceeding down a couple of parallel paths,” said Broadband committee/ select board member Stan Moss. Selectmen will ask for applications from cable companies for a cable TV franchise to see if any are interested. “We’re looking to get some certainty out of this.” The 45-day clock starts ticking on those applications when the committee publicizes its request for a response in the newspaper, said Moss. “Either they will or won’t respond with a proposal,” he added. “We’re looking at late February for an official response from cable companies.”
At the same time the network design was completed in late December, said Moss. He said the design was sent out to four companies for more review and to see what they think of the design. The next step would be a request for proposals for information relative to construction and provider information, he added. If the board does not get any response from cable TV firms it’s done, said Moss. Then the committee would develop a full RFP process and determine whether the response is adequate for the town to build the network ourselves, he said.
“The mission of the Broadband Committee is to make a recommendation to selectmen. It’s a town meeting issue. We appreciate people coming in and giving us their opinion, but it’s all about the town meeting,” said Moss.
Voters already had one vote to approve establishing a Municipal Light Plant separate from the municipal light department for Internet/telephone services, said Moss. “Our PMLD is eight people,” said Moss. “There is no call center for Internet and billing is outsourced. PMLD has significant financial issues due to the windmills. Their plate is full right now, so we needed to make sure this is separate, that’s why we decided to set up a separate municipal light plant’’ for high-speed Internet, Moss said.
The committee is researching outsourcing billing and customer service and outage issues, he added.
Officials are still waiting for Mass Broadband Initiative to connect the “middle mile’’ to the Thomas Prince School, town hall, library, and public safety building. That was supposed to be done in December. “We’re nowhere near to making a decision to build and it’s not our decision to make,’’ said Moss.
“It would cost a lot of money to build,” said Shore. “There are only 3,500 people in Princeton and a lot of them are retired and not everyone wants it. If you expect the user to pay for it, I’m with you. I’m one of the bigger taxpayers in town and I don’t want more tax. We have the highest electricity cost in Massachusetts. There are a lot of people in the same boat. I don’t like taking gambles.”
It may be possible to share the cost between the town and the users, said committee member Dag Olsen.
“If you want it you pay for it,” said Shore. “It’s not like a school. It’s not necessary for everyone to have Broadband.”
“I never went to a public school and I don’t have kids,” said committee member John Kowaleski. But Broadband benefits everyone, he said, because it will increase property values in town, he said.
Unfortunately the Internet that was initially put in place (by Verizon) doesn’t serve everyone and the Broadband initially put in by PMLD needs an upgrade, said committee chairman Steve Cullen.
“At the end of the day it’s all a question of cost,” said Shore. “Either to each individual or paying through the town and some people will be paying for something they don’t use.”
“We’re nowhere near to making a decision,” said Cullen. “We need a lot of numbers and maintenance costs before we’re ready to go to town meeting. How do we do this and minimize the cost?’’
“With the windmills and the PMLD wireless network the town had no control over the decision,” said Moss. “That was the commissioners.”
Mirick Road resident Kathy Conway disagreed. “We had a town meeting vote on the windmills that passed,” she said.
“There was never a vote on the windmills. PMLD pulled it,” said Moss.
At a special town election on Feb. 11, 2003, by a non-binding vote of 605 to 210, voters favored the light commissioner’s plan to replace eight existing wind turbines with two, new larger wind turbines mounted on towers 213 to 230 feet high. The cost of the new turbines would be paid from light department revenues and would not affect the tax rate.
Shore said he was just trying to preempt the situation regarding the cost for Internet service. He asked how it would be serviced. “There are people living on a fixed income. I’m trying to speak for the average person. I worked for 53 years for Morgan Construction in Worcester in international business. We have to be sensible.”
“We appreciate your thoughts, but you are not going to stop this committee,” said Moss. The selectmen gave the board a charge, he added.
“Your feelings are valuable here,” said Olsen. “We are trying to balance the need of people who need a lot of Internet and those who use it less. We are hearing you loud and clear. When we go to town meeting we’ll have all the answers.”
“We are trying our best to be open and transparent,” said Cullen.
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