Baker clears home-rule bill allowing Mount Washington to pursue broadband

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MOUNT WASHINGTON — Gov. Charlie Baker has signed legislation authorizing the town to embark on the process of bringing high-speed Internet pending voters' approval.

Baker signed the legislation into law on Jan. 22, according to a person on the staff of state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing.

The state Senate approved a home-rule petition from the town on Jan. 14. Approval from the state House came in October of last year.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the plan at a special town meeting here last July.

"At this point," said the staffer, who preferred to remain anonymous, "The legislative part of this is over."

Once the town assembles a funding package, it will have to be approved by the state's Municipal Finance Oversight Board, the staff member said.

Selectmen Chairman Brian Tobin said his board already has sent out a Request For Proposals, with a deadline for returning them on March 14.

"We expect several responses in the next six weeks to two months," he said.

Tobin said town officials aren't sure what the cost will be. The town has about $250,000 earmarked for the project already. That, he said, is, in theory, about one-third of the anticipated cost.

Other funding sources, Tobin said, include potential grants from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and borrowing.

"The financial climate has been pretty good lately, so we're hoping to be able to assemble a package that includes low-interest loans," he said.

The town plans to engineer, finance and build a state-of-the-art broadband system for this town of 150. Tobin estimated there are 124 full- and part-time residences in the town.

Tobin said the timeline won't be known until the RFPs come in.

The entire town was polled a year ago to gauge its support, said Tobin, and an overwhelming majority of residents supported the plan.

"There are a handful of residents who have satellite Internet," said Tobin. "But we believe that even they will support this, if only in terms of improved property values."

The final town approval for the plan will happen at an upcoming regular or special town meeting. That will require a two-thirds majority," and while I don't want to speak for the voters, I'm confident we'll get that."

Contact Derek Gentile to 413-496-6251.


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