Connect us now! Release the funding and build our network!
In 2014 the Massachusetts legislature recognized that broadband access is critical for the future of rural towns and authorized $50 million for a statewide initiative to bring broadband to unserved homes and businesses. Design and construction was expected to begin this past year, but there has been no progress and all funding is currently frozen. The future of our towns hangs in the balance.
Over 80% of Americans have access to broadband service in their homes and depend on the internet for work and email, looking up information, online banking, school assignments, research, healthcare access and keeping in touch with family and friends. Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, Twitter and Google are household names and part of everyday life for most Americans.
But not for 54 towns in western Massachusetts where local broadband access is unavailable and cell service is unreliable.
The sparse population means that private companies like Verizon and Comcast simply are not interested in investing in the long-term infrastructure to deliver broadband service. Real estate values continue to fall and homes can’t sell because so few people are willing to move to an area without broadband. Students are falling behind because online resources are inaccessible. Small businesses won’t even consider locating in an area without broadband and the ability to telecommute or operate a home-based business is virtually impossible.
In short, the future of small towns relies on the installation of high-quality broadband internet. Knowing this, towns across the region have taken action. Throughout 2015 residents broke town meeting attendance records across the state in standing-room-only votes to raise their taxes to fund 2/3 of the network build costs.
Hundreds of town employees and volunteers have donated their time and expertise in engineering, financial, legal, technology and marketing fields to perform due diligence and produce viable broadband solutions for their communities. A nationally recognized consulting firm has endorsed one such plan(1) and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University has cited the plan in an extensive case study(2). Innovative private companies have presented proposals to partner with towns(3,4). But what has happened since?
The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), charged with administering the project and distributing the state funds, has responded by releasing reports critical of presented plans without offering alternatives, blocking willing private companies from partnering with towns, changing policy decisions, withholding information, restricting citizens from attending informational meetings, and this past January having their director resign in the midst of a “pause” ordered by the Governor to investigate state budgets.
Throughout the last two years the Commonwealth has spent over $8.4 million taxpayer dollars on the “Broadband Last Mile” project, including $2.3 million in salaries for MBI staff(5). In the last twelve months little or no progress has been made on any of the steps needed to move forward with any new network build in any unserved town.
In short MBI has done everything it can to Make Broadband Impossible.
We need the governor to act now to stop wasting taxpayer money. We need him and his designated agency to do its job and work cooperatively and constructively with the towns and their agencies and allocate the funds using fair policy based on local control.
Connect us now and release the funding to build our network!
Be it resolved that we, the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and citizens of the United States call upon the Baker/Polito Administration to commit all necessary resources to ensure the provision of critical infrastructure broadband service to underserved towns in Massachusetts; and
Allocate the funds using a policy based on local control;
Work cooperatively with the towns and their agencies, including WiredWest and chosen private entities, to produce an immediate actionable plan that is acceptable to our towns.
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