Northampton moves closer to municipal broadband

Hampshire County

BOSTON (SHNS) – At a time when broadband access has become essential, the results of Northampton’s municipal election last week bring the Pioneer Valley city one step closer to owning and operating its own fiber network.

Voters resoundingly approved Question 1, which asked residents to support the establishment of a municipal light plant, with a final tally of 7,426 in favor and 705 against, according to unofficial results. Municipal light plants are locally-controlled utility companies that can provide electric, gas or internet service, depending on the community’s needs.

Though the measure is nonbinding, it paves the way for city officials to move forward with building publicly-owned internet infrastructure, should they choose to do so. A recent marketing study commissioned by the city ranked Northampton 321st for connectivity out of 351 cities and towns in the Bay State. The report notes that out of 15 cities of comparable size, it is one of only three communities with no fiber-to-home network, alongside Chelsea and Gloucester.

The next phase of the project will entail a feasibility study to analyze the potential costs and logistics of developing a network, according to the city’s website. Northampton isn’t the only community eyeing municipal broadband as reliable internet access has become an even more pressing concern for municipalities during the pandemic. Worcester has also been exploring the potential of locally-owned internet service, while a group of towns in western Mass. have joined together to form WiredWest, a collective effort to build a regional fiber-optic network with service offered through public utility provider Westfield Gas and Electric.

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