We Approved the MLP. So What’s Next?

What’s an MLP? 

Massachusetts law provides the opportunity for residents to form a Municipal Light Plants (MLP) to negotiate and manage residential telecommunications services, including construction of a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network and fiscal management when operational. The law was originally established to keep the cost of gas and electricity affordable for citizens, but grew in scope with the emergence of cable television companies. An MLP is an independent entity separate from all town government yet it may indeed interact with several other municipal offices. Like all other bodies and committees, the MLP is subject to open meeting laws and encourages residents to become involved in its discussions and decision-making process.

The MLP will be separate from but initially governed by the Princeton Board of Selectmen. The first order of business is to give the MLP a name and appoint a manager who will lead and direct the new entity. Once MLP leadership is established it is expected that a charter and governing bylaws will be drafted.

What Happens Next? 

Establishing an MLP creates a catalyst that puts many things into motion. As a legal entity, the Princeton MLP now meets the eligibility requirements of many potential sources for project funding, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative. Armed with an MLP, Princeton can now engage the services of Wired West, a consortium representing many other municipal networks in Massachusetts and benefit from its vital resources, which includes having a voice on Beacon Hill and a pipeline to potential funding sources.

With a name and manager, the immediate goal of the new MLP is to enter into negotiations with any private parties interested in funding the costs to build the FTTH network. To date, there is one such proposal in the final stages of preparation, which saves Princeton taxpayers between $3 and $5 million for a controlled installation. The current proposal also includes the stipulation that the vendor maintains the fiber network. The MLP, adhering to state procurement laws and bidding procedures, will engage the services of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) who will bill subscribers monthly for fees to cover the cost of building the network, maintenance, equipment depreciation, Internet connectivity, and other user costs. Eventually – perhaps within 15 years – the Princeton MLP will assume all ownership of the network and will be responsible for its financial and operational management.

Once the MLP approves the proposal, network installation would be completed in 12-15 months. Under this “best case” scenario, Princeton’s high-speed fiber optic network could be operational by the fall of 2015. Under the watchful management of an MLP, vendor delays can be managed far more skillfully than if they occurred during an unsupervised installation project.

Cutting the Cord 

Harvard Law professor and author Susan Crawford writes in her book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly in the Gilded Age: “Truly high-speed wired internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago, but a limited number of Americans have access to it, many can’t afford it, and the country has handed control of it over to Comcast and a few other companies.”

By voting for an MLP Princeton has made the bold decision not be held captive by the cable companies and incumbent carriers. We thank all who supported us at town meeting and for the ongoing words of encouragement to keep the momentum headed in the right direction.

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