WORCESTER – City Manager Eric Batista declared municipal broadband “impossible” on Thursday, April 13, during an interview on “Talk of the Commonwealth” with Hank Stolz.
Batista also said the city will renew its contract with Charter Spectrum for cable television. Hear the full interview here.
UPDATE: On Thursday, April 20, City Manager Eric Batista again appeared on “The Talk of the Commonwealth” and provided additional comments on municipal broadband, including addressing the use of the word “impossible.” Hear the segment here.
In a discussion about the renewal of the cable television contract, Stolz asked if the city would look into providing internet service itself. Batista said “our desire is to do something like that, but it would be very impossible for us to do that.”
Batista cited the city of Chattanooga, TN, which he says spent over $400 million to implement a municipal system between 10 and 15 years ago.
Chattanooga, now a city of over 182,000, deployed a 1,000 mbps system in 2011. It did its construction in conjunction with a rebuild of its electrical grid. Its initial cost was $220 million. The city-owned provider took a $169 million loan and a federal grant provided $111 million to cover deployment and operating expenses.
Chattanooga later upgraded its system to enable 10,000 mbps service. It was one of the first cities in the United States to offer 1,000 mbps service. City officials predicted it needed 30,000 customers to break even. The municipal system has had up to 120,000 subscribers.
In a 10-year review by the City of Chattanooga in 2021, it found the city-owned provider created and retained 9,516 jobs and realized value that exceeds costs by over 440 percent, providing $2.2 billion of value to the city.
The city of Springfield, Mass., has recently completed a feasibility study and Mayor Domenic Sarno supports developing its own network. Sarno says Springfield is pursuing state and federal funding to support building its network. The population of Springfield was over 154,000 in 2021. Springfield applied federal funding to pay for its feasibility study.
Worcester has over $115 million in unspent ARPA funds, according to its website. In Worcester’s form of municipal government, the City Manager has the sole authority to spend grant funding.
The City of Cambridge, Mass. also recently completed its feasibility study. It estimates a cost of $149 million to $194 million when considering inflation. The population of Cambridge in 2021 was over 117,000.
The Town of Shrewsbury has owned its own internet and cable television provider for many years. In 2021, it reported a net income of $4.8 million.
The City of Worcester formed a broadband task force in 2021. It has never issued a report.
Former Governor Baker established the “Broadband Innovation Fund” in December 2021 for grants to municipalities. The federal Investment and Jobs Act also has $42.45 billion in state grants eligible for broadband infrastructure projects. There are other state and federal programs with grant funding programs for municipalities eligible for supporting municipal broadband infrastructure.
The city was awarded a state grant or $237,500 in fiscal year 2020 for from the Municipal Fiber Program. That funding is eligible for “implementation of fiber optic networks that connect remote municipal assets for the purpose of improving municipal operations and/or improving disaster recovery and resiliency within municipal government.”
A 2021 report by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau said that one in five Worcester residents do not have high-speed internet access at home.