SPRINGFIELD — City Councilor Jesse Lederman has proposed a study to determine if Springfield should invest millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds to create a municipal fiber-optic internet system to compete with private cable services.
“The internet has become an essential utility for families and businesses, and people are tired of being nickel and dimed when it comes to internet access,” Lederman said in a statement. “A municipal fiber network would put the public in the driver seat when it comes to ensuring affordable and capable internet access.”
A feasibility study makes sense as Springfield is slated to receive roughly $100 million in COVID-19 aid from the American Rescue Plan, Lederman said. The law specifically notes that the expansion of broadband infrastructure is an appropriate use of funds, he said.
The city is completing its second 10-year contract with Comcast and is preparing for a contract extension subject to public input and negotiation this year. A response was not immediately available Friday from Comcast.
Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, in response to Lederman’s proposal, said Friday his administration is happy to consider the feasibility of the project.
There will be “a number of strategic and transformative investments” from the American Rescue Plan funds, Sarno said, similar to transformations made after the 2011 tornado using federal relief money. The investments will include initiatives for economic development and jobs, Sarno said.
Lederman said now is the time “to make sure that Springfield is not left behind as new technology becomes available.”
“As we look to a future where high-speed rail is a reality and more residents are telecommuting we must ensure that Springfield is investing in this critical public infrastructure at the same rate as other communities to meet demand to retain and attract residents and businesses,” Lederman said.
A feasibility study should address factors such as: the current state of internet access and capability in all Springfield neighborhoods; a gauge of public interest and the return on investment for a municipal fiber option; an assessment of the cost and possible revenue sources to finance the development of the infrastructure; and an assessment of strategies including possible public/private partnerships and regional collaborations, Lederman said.
Lederman said he began looking into the issue after Comcast/Xfinity said it would institute data caps and overage charges on customers during the coronavirus pandemic. Lederman was among various area elected officials who opposed the data cap measure, which now has been delayed until 2022.
Other communities are conducting studies on municipal fiber networks, and there was a virtual forum with area officials in April to consult experts in the field, Lederman said.