This week, Massachusetts officials will mark the opening of the first segment of the publicly funded broadband network that will bring high-speed Internet to rural communities in western and central parts of the state. The network has been years in the making.
The local push for better Internet access in rural communities in western Massachusetts began in the late ’90’s, but it wasn’t until 2010 that a broadband network became feasible. That year, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, formed by Governor Deval Patrick in 2008, received $45 million in federal stimulus funds, and a mandate to complete its proposed 1200 mile network of fiber optic cable within three years.
“I always joke with people that even if the federal government didn’t put such a strong timeline on us, the governor and the people of western Mass would have put the timeline, because this is something they’ve been waiting for for a very long time.”
That’s Judy Dumont, director of the Institute. She says urban areas of the state like Boston, Worcester, and Springfield received privately funded high-speed Internet infrastructure years earlier. But it was not economically viable for companies to invest in rural parts of the state. So over $71 million of state and federal money was spent to install broadband across the region. Officials hope the project will be completed by July, bringing high-speed Internet to over 120 communities. But Dumont says even at that point, broadband will only be available in many schools and hospitals, a final length of cable will still be needed to bring the service into homes.
“The governor did file a bill in this cycle…for a commitment to bring what’s called that last mile or connectivity to residents.”
Dumont says it could take several years before all residents have that last leg of connectivity in their homes.