For those who may not know the scope of the problem, 32 of the 101 cities and towns in the 4 western counties (Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden) have no access to broadband Internet, while another 30 in the region have limited or intermittent access. This is not merely an inconvenience. Leaving some of our communities without the infrastructure needed to grow their economies, expand educational opportunity, or improve their quality of life, is unacceptable. Traveling across the 48 communities I represent in the Berkshire, Hampshire, & Franklin district, I am continually amazed at how pervasive the issue of broadband connectivity is. The dairy Farmer in Charlemont who wants to diversify what his land produces, needs broadband to get those new value added products to a larger market. The architect in Worthington needs high speed Internet to upload and download schematics and return his work at the speed of business to his clients. And the financial planner who works in new York City, but has a second home in Sandisfield, would love to move to the Berkshires full time, but can’t if he can’t keep up with market trends and keep in touch with clients.
The Administrations proposal has several key aspects: (1) Funds will be used to purchase durable assets. As with any other cutting edge technology, broadband (especially wireless) is changing at a rapid pace, the last thing we need to do is use tax payer dollars to purchase something that will be obsolete in a relatively short time. So these resources will purchase towers, fiber, conduits and other essential portions of the network, which will be used for years (no matter technological trends) (2) A Massachusetts Broadband Institute will be established to work through the various proposals from the private sector. The institute will ensure wise and efficient expenditure of the fund and will bring together the institutional knowledge of Berkshire & Pioneer valley Connect, the John Adams Innovation Institute at MTC, and the various local broadband committees that have proliferated in unserved communities. (3) Perhaps most important is what Massachusetts will not do. The Commonwealth will not be a service provider. We will partner with any provider who is willing to work to make this venture successful. At the local level, Richmond Networx, WiSpring, Crocker.com, and others, have made great strides to expand connectivity. This effort will seek to build off their efforts and make further expansion more economically feasible.
Thankfully, the Administration recognizes the problem. They heard it loud and clear campaigning in western Mass. They’ve heard it loud and clear governing across the Commonwealth. Now they’ve answered the call with a plan that will bridge the digital divide. In a state where we pride ourselves on our ability to innovate, we must not let any barrier – geographic, economic, demographic – stop us from ensuring that opportunity is expanded to all. This announcement takes a major step in ensuring one more barrier is knocked down.
I look forward to any input from the BMG community on the proposal, the challenge, and the possibilities that come with expanded broadband access. Keep up the good work and thanks for keeping the dialogue going.