Halifax Broadband – Cell – Economic Committee
Meeting Minutes 4/16/2015 (regular meeting, rescheduled from 4/8/2015) DRAFT
The Halifax Cell—Broadband—Economic Development Committee met at the Town Office on April 16, 2015. The meeting was called to order at 6:35 p.m., with board members Edee Edwards, Curtis Carroll, Gretchen Becker, Jessica Bruno and new member Mary Horne present. Chris Mays of the Reformer and “Blaise McGarvey attended as visitors.
The meeting minutes from March 11th were approved 4-0-1; Jessica Bruno abstained, having been absent at the last meeting.
How best to map existing cell service was the first topic of discussion. The initial goal of such mapping would be the ability to advise residents in different parts of town which service would best meet their needs. Edee Edwards projected a Halifax parcel map and proposed that, after mud season, committee members divide the town into segments and determine in pairs what cell service exists where. The number of different area service providers – which include ATT, US Cellular, Trackphone, and Verizon – used by committee members and others presents a challenge to mapping, as does the fact that, within any given parcel, one may be able to receive service outdoors but not inside, etc. A brief search for an existing online map of service was done and Windham Regional assistance was mentioned. It was agreed that committee members would attempt to find cellular maps of the area on their own time at home. If anyone knows of such a map, please do let a committee member know!
Updates and improvements to the Town website were then discussed. As part of its communications and economic development charge, it was agreed that the Committee might post grant opportunities for residents; developments on cell and broadband projects and services; and perhaps make updates to the town calendar. Gretchen Becker agreed to take the lead on the updates. Jessica Bruno offered to meet with Becker to do training.
Usage of the WiFi hotspot at the Town Garage remains at 2 to 3 hits per day. The service was out for a few days but wiring (donated by Blaise) and router placement have now been improved, making future outages less likely. Residents are reminded to please park in the designated WiFi user area so as not to impede the activities of the road crew. The Whitingham Library and Marlboro College’s Library remain alternative high speed Internet options for Halifax residents.
The high speed fiber optic service co-op called “WiredWest” was discussed as a possible model for Halifax and surrounding towns. (Please see 4/5/2015 Boston Globe article on last mile efforts in MA: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2015/04/04/time-for-western-mass-get-broadband-speed/Lqo2Ia5tn07lM52PXEbCyL/story.html (Sunday Boston Globe, April 5, 2015, p. K5).Referring to a flyer from Colrain, MA, Jessica Bruno noted that 40% of Colrain’s residents would be required to commit to signing on for WireWest and that, while grant money could cover approximately 40% of the hard installation costs, the towns of Massachusetts who sign on would need to issue roughly $60 million in bonds to cover the remainder. In addition to sparse population, our own area is challenged with significant market fragmentation. Due to hard costs and effort required to switch services, Halifax residents would likely be loathe to join or create a co-op unless it offered service from their existing provider at a significant savings. With nearby neighbors like Colrain actively pursuing service provision options like WireWest, however, it is of ever more concern that Halifax is falling behind its nearby neighbors in rural MA. Without high speed Internet, economic development and sustained opportunities for residents – especially families with children – will continue to be severely challenged.
The completion of the Marlboro and Halifax Center towers are expected in June and “by summer,” respectively, according to updates by Curtis Carroll and others. Via email, Linda Lyon shared her (currently unsuccessful) experience trying to get service from VTEL on Green River Road from existing towers, and expressed concern via email about the reach of the towers’ service to the deeper hollows of Halifax. Carroll noted that in trying VTEL’s service from Hanson road, the download limits were severe enough for his plan that he will keep DSL instead.
Along the lines of communication and economic development, Committee members discussed holding topic-specific mini-meetings to share information with and among residents on Internet “tools” such as Pinterest, Twitter, etc. Many people are unaware of the ways such informational and social media sites can be used to assist small businesses and even to stay in touch with friends and relatives at a distance.
The meeting adjourned at 7:53 pm.