Officials gathered in front of Town Hall this morning to announce the $25 million Broadband Incentive Fund.
Becket - Members of the Berkshire delegation joined key Patrick Administration officials at Town Hall this morning to announce a new initiative aimed at providing high-speed Internet service to underserved and unserved towns in the Commonwealth by a 2010 target.
"Today's announcement is not only about bridging the digital divide; it's about bringing new economic development opportunities into every neighborhood. This area, along with too many areas in Massachusetts, have frequently felt like they were in the breakdown lane of the information superhighway and in some communities it's even worse than that - they may be prevented from even getting on the on-ramp," said Stan McGee, the state's director of wireless and broadband development.
"Right now, we have 32 towns in Massachusetts without any broadband whatsoever and 63 that are underserved. Frankly, that's not acceptable in a state based on a knowledge economy," McGee continued.
The $25 million Broadband Incentive Fund focuses on developing public and private partnerships in communities throughout the state that do not have broadband access. Managed by a special division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the fund will enable the state to use up to $25 million toward for broadband infrastructure tools like conduits, fiber and wireless towers, which the Patrick Administration hopes will spur private investments.
Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli (D-Lenox) said that affordable, accessible broadband would tremendously impact his constituents.
"I can think of no bigger economic development tool than this effort that is being launched here today," said Pignatelli.
Pignatelli used an anecdote that starred an Egremont resident to illustrate the importance of moving forward with the initiative.
"Last night, at 11 [p.m.], a constituent of mine in Egremont hit send on the computer to file necessary paperwork with the Department of Revenue. At 7:30 this morning, on her dial-up network, it was still going," he said. "Next year or the year after, my constituent in Egremont won't have the same problem."
Representative Denis Guyer (D-Dalton) said the installation of universal broadband will connect the entire state.
"The kids who go to school in Becket and the business owners in Becket and the residents in Becket deserve the same economic opportunities as people in Boston," he said.
Also on hand were Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield), Representative Daniel Bosley (D-North Adams), Donald Dubendorf, president of Berkshire Connect, Inc., Representative Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington), Daniel O'Connell, the state's secretary of housing and economic development, Sharon E. Gillett, the new commissioner of the department of telecommunications and cable, Deputy Director for MTC and Director of the John Adams Innovation Institute Patrick Larkin and Linda Dunlavy of Pioneer Valley Connect.
"To be viable and competitive in the information age, we must commit to invest in the infrastructure needed to serve every student, every business, and every home in the Commonwealth. With this announcement, we lay the plans to do just that. The ripple effects from this will touch every corner of every community in western Massachusetts," said Downing.
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I'm 4 miles west of Becket. In 2006, I went from dialup to HughesNet after tolerating 26.4 Kbps since 1997. It has become obvious that all the talk about broadband here was so much wind. Ergo this latest "initiative" is not ringing my chimes. We've heard that spiel before, and we'll doubtless hear it again.
DSL or cable will never be available here. FIOS will show up only after we're invaded by Martians. And wireless is impractical in this notoriously unflat Berkshire terrain. As such, I'm convinced that for at least the next decade, the choices in the 32 "unserved" towns will be dialup on decaying lines or satellite. That's not pessimism. It's realism. I'd like to be wrong, but when government is involved in something ...