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Gov. Patrick's Funding Supports Ongoing Broadband Efforts

Massachusetts Broadband Institute

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently announced additional funding to ensure efforts to bring broadband internet service to western Massachusetts continue.

As part of his fiscal 2014 capital investments, Governor Patrick has directed $10 million to go towards the Last Mile project that would bring internet access to 45 underserved communities in the western part of the state. The Middle Mile of the MassBroadband123 project is nearing completion as portions of it have been handed over to the state’s contracted service provider AXIA for operation. Hoping to be fully completed by the end of the year, this phase brings fiberoptic access to major hubs like town offices, libraries and medical centers. Judy Dumont is the Director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute which oversees the project.

“We’re finishing one key piece and ready, willing and able to launch the Last Mile,” said Dumont.

Dumont says the $10 million will fund planning and design efforts working with utility companies to expand service to individual homes stemming from the anchor sites. Dumont says the phases that have been completed cover 1,200 miles and more than 120 communities across 33,000 utility poles. She says bringing fiberoptic connections to homes in the 45 underserved towns will incorporate about the same numbers of poles and cost roughly $100 million.

“We’d be looking to establish private partnerships as well,” she said. “We don’t want to be in the business of operating a network. We are an economic development organization.”

Dumont says her agency is working with groups like Wired West, a municipal cooperative of 42 western Massachusetts towns that remain underserved, to make municipalities and private companies part of the solution in raising the additional funds needed.

“One of the key things is getting the people in the towns to actually agree to take that service,” Dumont explained. “Because we can all build this wonderful network and if everybody says ‘No, I don’t want’…well that’s not going to be sustainable.”

Some towns have taken steps to set up their own networks in the mean time. Last year, the town of Tyringham used funds from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to set up a Wi-Fi tower, while in Leverett voters gave the town approval to build of off the existing fiberoptic network. Monica Webb, of Wired West, says a cooperative regional fiberoptic network will provide the best service for the future.

“It has the best chances of long-term success and it’s the most efficient use of all of our funding sources,” said Webb.

In the spring, Governor Patrick filed a bill that would provide $40 million to fund the Last Mile. Democratic state senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield says an additional $10 million was recently added that would increase funding for the Last Mile to $50 million by offering support to cable companies serving underserved communities.

“There may well be Time Warner or Comcast, but they may not reach all households,” Downing explained. “While not all $10 million will go specifically to those communities, part of that $10 million is making sure that we can meet their needs.”

The entire IT bond bill is currently in the Legislature and Downing hopes it can get to the Governor’s desk before the end of January.

“I never want to say anything is automatic or a guarantee unless we are about to do it,” he said. “That being said, I think there is broad support.”

Dumont says it’s difficult to set a completion date for the Last Mile, but believes three to four years of work remain.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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