Sandisfield, MA – Massachusetts is starting construction on one of the largest broadband expansion projects in the country. It will bring high speed internet access to 120 mostly rural communities in western and central Massachusetts. WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
During the next 24 months workers will attach 13 hundred miles of fiber optic cable to more than 30 thousand existing utility poles to create the infrastructure for an open broadband network. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said this will close a digital divide that has deprived nearly a million of the state's residents of what is increasingly a basic utility: high speed internet.
The governor was joined by federal, local and other state officials at the fire station in Sandisfield in the south Berkshires, one of the communities where the fiber optic network construction is beginning.
The Patrick administration announced a plan four years ago to use public money to build broadband infrastructure in the rural parts of the state. The legislature approved a 40 million dollar bond bill. Last year, the state was awarded 45 million dollars in federal stimulus money for broadband expansion.
The network that is being built will provide direct connections to 14 hundred schools, libraries, hospitals and public safety facilities that currently lack high speed internet. Patrick Barrett, the chairman of the Sandisfield Board of Selectmen says it'll will mean a lot to the small town.
While public buildings will be hooked into the network, it'll be up to private broadband providers to connect more than 300 thousand households and more than 40 thousand businesses. Judith Dumont, the director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, the state agency in charge of the project,believes companies will compete to offer affordable high speed internet service over the open network.
MBI has awarded 8 grants totaling 335 thousand dollars to local communities to draw up strategies for completing what is known as " the last mile": the connection between the fiber optic network and individual homes and businesses.
MBI has contracted with G4S technology to build the network. Axia has been contracted to operate and maintain the network.
Conditions of the federal stimulus funds require the project to completed in July 2013.