Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA) - Broadband Project Proceeds Slowly 04/12/2012
By Vicky Britton
Gazette Contributing Writer
BOSTON - The plan to bring high-speed Internet to rural areas of Massachusetts is moving ahead slowly, with hopes of meeting next year's federal funding deadline.
"Right now it's more about timing," said Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, who sponsored a closed-door briefing for legislators Wednesday on the progress of the MassBroadband 123 project. "It's pretty clear the Massachusetts Broadband Institute still has a lot of work to do. It's an ambitious project under a tight timeline with federal funds."
The state Legislature has authorized $40 million in bonds to work with the private sector to bring high-speed Internet service to 120 communities in western and north central Massachusetts.
Many of those communities still rely on satellite or dial-up access to the Internet. And 43 communities have no access to cable television.
The project received a boost in 2009 when President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that provided $7.2 billion for broadband in rural America. The state received $45.4 million in federal funding for the Massbroadband 123 project.
But under the terms of the grant, the work must be completed by June 2013. To meet the goal, the institute is now working to get utilities - including Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and National Grid - to make space available on some 30,000 existing utility poles to run fiber-optic cable.
The project has installed 10 miles of fiber-optic cable in southern Berkshire County. It is up to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to connect that new cable along the utility poles.
"We're still in the early stages," Judith Dumont, director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, said after the briefing. "This needs to get built so providers can come in and use it and sell it to residents and sell it to communities."
Dumont said areas of western Massachusetts are left unserved because of a lack of investment by utilities.
"It has gotten better over the past few years partly because of the investment we've made and how that investment has spurred some of the larger providers," Downing said.
But the senator said more needs to be done to make sure all state residents have access to high-speed connections.
"Anywhere you are in Massachusetts you should have access to high-speed, low-cost quality affordable Internet service," he said. "That's the goal of the project and I think we're going to be able to get there."
Vicky Britton is a student in the Boston University Statehouse Program