***UPDATED: the Resolution passed on Feb 2, 2021 by a 7-4 vote (1 absent, 1 abstain). Congratulations, Holyoke. You are leading the pack.***
Good afternoon. I’ve called this conference to bring attention to a Resolution I filed to help our residents with the new data cap policy that Comcast/Xfinity was set to begin implementing this month.
Under the data cap policy, Comcast/Xfinity customers will be limited to 1.2 terabytes of data before they are charged an additional fee. Data-caps have been called arbitrary and financially motivated by industry media reports including Ars Technica, a major tech publication. These industry reports note that the capacity of networks have been sufficiently built up over time to meet the network demands through the service fees paid by consumers. The arbitrary nature of the data cap policy is also made evident by the suspension of data-caps in other parts of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as public statements by internet service providers such as Comcast itself.
Reliable internet access has become a matter of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Internet data consumption is climbing as families are required to utilize the internet for their basic needs—online learning, working remotely, telehealth appointments, and providing social-emotional support while we are in isolation. Comcast/Xfinity could not have chosen a worse time to hit their customers with this additional fee—especially when the company is fully capable of meeting the present demand and capacity needs.
I have heard from families all over the City that they just cannot afford to take on any additional costs at the moment. I’m joined today by Jack Kennedy of Eastern Promenade. He wrote to me that his family is using more internet than ever these days. His wife, Hannah, relies on the internet to work from home and they have two elementary school children learning via Zoom every weekday. Their sons, Bobby and Jay, use over 1200 hours of two-way video per month, just for school.
Jack Kennedy: “Last Sunday, we got an alert saying we were at 90% of our data cap. Two days, later we were over the cap. This is a company using their monopoly to take advantage of working people who are doing everything they can to get their families through one of the most stressful times. Holyoke already has a municipal internet service, we need to expand it to provide an essential service to working families in Holyoke.”
Rachel Lawrence of Longwood Ave. is a teacher in the Springfield Public Schools. She reminded me that she and her two daughters had no choice this past year when all their full-time educational activities were moved on-line to protect the health and safety of the community. Due to school hours, Rachel and her daughters could not be here this afternoon, but Rachel wrote these thoughts:
“All three of us in our household are using Zoom to attend or teach school full time. We also need to use Zoom meetings outside of our work and school obligations; for medical and therapy Telehealth appointments and of course, some recreational downtime. Families like ours are also using the internet for managing a number of basic household tasks such as banking and grocery shopping. We hit our cap on the 20th and are scrambling to figure out ways to cut back on our internet usage.”
The Resolution I filed urges the State Legislature to act in the interest of consumers to prohibit data caps and also commits the City to analyzing internet access and affordability. The same Resolution has been filed jointly by councilors in four other communities in the region: Northampton, Springfield, West Springfield, and Agawam. It presently enjoys the support of 26 city councilors across all five cities. Residents in all five communities are primarily served by Comcast/Xfinity for their internet service.
With an effective monopoly on internet access in Holyoke, Comcast/Xfinity can impose on our residents whatever policies and fees it decides. Even if Comcast/Xfinity temporarily suspends the data cap policy until the summer, there are no long-term solutions to this predicament without some measure of consumer choice. Fortunately, Holyoke has an easy fix to this problem in the HG & E who has demonstrated the ability to provide municipal fiber internet as an option for residential customers in neighboring communities, such as Chicopee and South Hadley. Holyoke residents deserve that same option which is why we are speaking on this issue in front of the G&E today.
In 2019, I was a lead sponsor to get the municipal fiber question onto the ballot. The citizens of Holyoke passed a nonbinding referendum urging the Holyoke Gas and Electric to gauge interest in a gradual rollout of a residential fiber optic internet network. The ballot question passed with more than 64% of the vote. Laura Clampitt of Locust Street and citizen lead on the 2019 fiber ballot initiative is here to share some thoughts on where we are in that process now.
Laura Clampitt: “Holyoke has been at the forefront with fiber infrastructure for business uses. HG&E is well regarded as an excellent utility provider and has been offering fiber optic internet to commercial customers since 1998. The ballot question clearly demonstrates that Holyoke residents want an alternative to Comcast and we are now eagerly awaiting the rollout of the G&E feasibility survey that will guide a plan for residential fiber access.”
Given that so many communities have filed the same Resolution it is clear that we need a regional solution to Comcast/Xfinity’s unfair data cap policy and monopoly in the market. I believe that the relationships we have forged in the collective filing of this Resolution will serve as a foundation for ongoing dialogue about how to plan for bringing fiber internet to residential consumers in Holyoke and in the region more broadly.
The Holyoke City Council will vote tomorrow night on the Resolution. Please contact your councilors and ask them to vote in support. Thank you.