Gov Tech Looks at Tiny Mount Washington's Mighty Muni

In  November 2017 we reported that Mount Washington, a town of roughly 200 people in southwestern Massachusetts, had deployed its own infrastructure for broadband service. More than two years after the initial setup, a recent article in Government Technology on municipal broadband in Massachusetts takes us back to the tiny town. We learn how fast affordable, reliable publicly owned Internet infrastructure has brought positive transformation to the citizens of Mount Washington, located in the Taconic Mountains.

You Could Barely Use It

The article covers several layers of how high-speed Internet access has provided a jumpstart for the local economy. The small town with its remote landscape and inherent challenges had only two options before broadband: dial-up or a long-distance Wi-Fi service, which provided download speeds of less than 1 Mbps. 

“You could barely use Wi-Fi calling, and it was impossible to stream anything,” said Brian Tobin, Mount Washington select board member. “You could send emails, and you could do Internet searches that just took a long time.”

In spite of the fact that they're the third smallest town in the state, the Mount Washington Broadband Network now offers fiber optic infrastructure and contracts with an Internet access provider to offer speeds which surpasses those in some of the state's much larger communities. Funding for the network is part of a larger state plan to bring broadband to rural towns in need of Internet service. The Government Technology article notes that: 

“Mount Washington benefited from the Last Mile Program, which provided more than $35 million in grants for rural broadband. The program is run by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), which is part of the state agency Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech).”

seal-mt-washington-ma.pngIn addition to that, Mount Washington received a grant from the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, which will allow them to quickly pay down their $400,000 loan. The community began discussing the possibility of investing in a muni more than five years ago and even sought special permission from the state legislature for home rule authority in order to make their own decisions regarding how to proceed. They were one of the early Berkshire communities to forge ahead with publicly owned fiber optic networks.

Self-sufficiency Through Better Connectivity

Subscribers have access to voice service and better Internet connectivity for rates that are less than what they paid for their satellite connections, more reliable, and at upload and download speeds that dwarf past connectivity. As it has been a couple of years since the arrival of the town's municipal broadband service, the article shares Tobin’s experience.

“They try to be as self-sufficient as possible at home,” Tobin said. “But now we’re much more self-sufficient because everything, all the information we need, is at our fingertips. It wasn’t before.”

The article also describes how better connectivity has started to lessen some of the pre-existing socio-economic problems in the town. For instance, Mount Washington had faced population decline that prevented the community from developing the budget they needed to invest in community facilities. Now, the high-speed Internet is attracting new couples to Mount Washington: 

“Before the new system, people weren’t interested in looking at homes in the town, despite its abundance of natural beauty. But in the last two years, Mount Washington has seen more real-estate transactions as property values have improved. Younger families who want to work from home may now view the town as a potential destination.”

For more on municipal networks in Massachusetts and Mount Washington’s broadband network, read the original article at Government Technology. For more on the history of Mount Washington’s broadband connectivity, check out our previous coverage. We've also written extensively about other communities that have received funding from MBI, other state funding opportunites, and have pursued alternate funding strategies.

Listen to our interview with Gail Garrett from Mount Washington from July 2016: