IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE GOVERNOR’S ANNOUNCEMENT of a change in posture by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) for its Last Mile program, things seem to be moving in a positive — and more vigorous — direction.
Here’s a synopsis of what has taken place in the past 30 days:
On Wednesday, April 27, the Hawley Selectboard sent a letter to Governor Baker stating that Hawley:
- would be pursuing a wireless option;
- had decided “. . . not to pursue a fiber alternative due to excessive cost”; and that,
- “. . . it is difficult to proceed until we have some clarity from the State regarding the future of the Massachusetts Broadband program and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), both as a whole and as these apply to Hawley.”
Hawley’s letter to the Governor went on to say that “. . . we urge the State to do everything possible to expedite the process of making already promised funding available, especially to those towns who are ready to commit to a direction that has been approved by MBI. Additionally, we are concerned regarding the impact that the Broadband Wireless Access Study (BWA) may have on existing schedules and plans. We request reassurance of and action toward the State’s continued financial commitment.” [The text of this letter can be reviewed HERE.]
On Tuesday, May 10, Governor Baker met with a group of Broadband representatives from Western Massachusetts and announced that the MBI Broadband “pause” was over. He and his staff issued a 14-slide PowerPoint printout which states, among many other things, that “MBI is shifting to a more flexible, responsive program framework which prioritizes affordable and sustainable solutions and embraces a range of technology and operating options.” [That printout can be downloaded HERE — careful, it’s a very large (3 MB) file.]
The translation is this: wireless is now an officially-recognized option, as long as it meets basic MBI requirements for speed and sustainability, and can be configured to reach a large enough percentage of the total number of households. And while there is no necessary causal connection between Hawley’s letter to the Governor and the subsequent announcement from the Governor, it is interesting to note how congruent Hawley’s requests are with the Governor’s new policies.
New MBI Advisors
The Governor also announced the appointment of two new “Advisors” for the Last Mile program:
- Peter Larkin, Special Advisor to the Secretary, who will serve as Chair of the MBI Board of Directors; and,
- Bill Ennen, Last Mile Implementation Liaison, from Shelburne, MA.
One of the Western MA representatives attending the meeting with Governor Baker in Boston was Steve Harris, Chair of the Middlefield Communications Committee. He reported on that meeting two days later at the May 12 Hybrid-Wireless Working Group meeting in Hawley. Steve’s take on the Governor’s gathering was very encourging, and he said he was particularly impressed with some of the new staff members.
At that Hybrid-Wireless Working Group meeting, Steve also underlined the importance of MBI funding for a pending Pilot Project proposal, to be conducted by the Town of Middlefield, which would provide the field data needed to verify the speed capabilities of the newest generation of wireless equipment. Steve asked for letters of support from the attending offices, emphasizing the importance of implementing the pilot immediately, so that the wireless equipment could be tested when the foliage is at its fullest.
At about the same time as the Hybrid-Wireless meeting in Hawley, an email communication was sent from Peter Larkin, Special Advisor to the Secretary & MBI Board Chair, to municipal leaders throughout our region. In that communication, Larkin outlined four steps to be taken ASAP:
- Name an official point of contact with MBI for each Town and convey via email to Bill Ennen (Deadline: May 20);
- Review the information supplied in a series of Town profiles published a few weeks earlier by MBI and provide feedback to Bill Ennen (Deadline: May 27);
- Be on the lookout for a checklist of documents required to accompany any MBI project submissions. (MBI will publish them no later than June 3);
- Work with Bill Ennen to assess your Town’s readiness to implement Broadband (next few weeks).
The next day — May 13 — the Hawley Communications Committee emailed a letter in support of the Middlefield pilot project to Peter Larkin and Bill Ennen. That letter was also copied to Senator Benjamin Downing and Representative Paul Mark. [View the text of the Hawley support letter HERE.]
Bill Ennen responded to the support letter within 30 minutes, acknowledging receipt and indicating he would make sure it would be considered as part of the Middlefield decision process.
On Friday, May 20, the Hawley Communications Committee sent a second email to Bill Ennen naming the new point of contact (Rick Kean) and the backup (Lark Thwing) and asking some additional questions. Mr. Ennen responded with a detailed email 50 minutes later, addressing each of the issues that had been raised. He volunteered to meet with the Town and also to attend a meeting of the Hybrid-Wireless Working Group in the near future.
Microscopic samples though they may be, if these immediate communications and rapid actions are any indication of what can be expected of MBI going forward, then its new course is positive and vigorous, indeed.