Broadband: The final frontier in Massachusetts

Where’s the broadband?

The smaller towns in Berkshire County (as well as smaller towns in Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden, and Worcester counties) have lacked access to sufficient broadband internet services, and in contrast all of the larger cities (especially Boston) have benefited from real broadband access for decades. These smaller towns started to form Broadband Committees to address this problem over the last several years, and finally the state has run and lit up a fiber-optic backbone to bring these smaller towns into the next century.

What is broadband?

A general rule of thumb today is that broadband internet access consists of DSL, Cable, or wireless solutions that can also deliver timely high-speed services, such as cellular (3G/4G) and WISP (local fixed-wireless solutions like WiSpring1). Satellite internet2, though they try very hard, isn’t really broadband internet access, it’s a band-aid that may even be taking focus away from the real problem, the lack of broadband services in rural areas. No satellite internet service today (other than corporate-level) can deliver what even basic DSL and Cable internet service can currently deliver because of packet latency and weather dependencies.

Dictated corporate control

The key source of the broadband problem has been the larger providers, including Verizon and Time Warner, and their overall lack of interest in expanding Cable and DSL services into rural towns to save their gross profit margins.

Said corporations are worth billions of dollars, but as we are all aware, corporations are solely concerned about profit margins and couldn’t care less about doing good for the fewer who lack services… they would rather reap the benefits of overcharging the majority who are in their service areas. So, said corporations had the means to pay for expansion into rural areas, but they chose the Ebenezer Scrooge approach that most big-name providers often follow.

What changed broadband in Massachusetts?

First, towns started to gather together representatives from Broadband Committees in the smaller towns into larger unified groups (like WiredWest3 and Western MA Connect4) to escalate the awareness of the lack of broadband internet services in the rural towns throughout western Massachusetts.

But broadband-providing corporations still failed… they only slightly expanded their existing services into small-pocket areas, still leaving the majority unconnected.

Governor Deval Patrick pushed the initative

In 2008, Governor Patrick saw the voters’ overwhelming desire for broadband access in the rest of the state, and he went head-to-head with companies like Verizon that had purposely held back their services from rural residents to save their pocketbooks, but the companies still failed to expand services. Groups were formed as part of the state government (including MassTech5 and the MBI6) to establish a municipal fiber-optic backbone.

The race to complete the backbone started in July 2011 in Sandisfield, MA7 and the backbone was nearly completed in April 2013 in Otis, MA8.

The last mile dilemma

Though the build-out of the backbone has greatly pushed the broadband movement towards successful completion, the last mile of the fiber-optic network still needs to be built out in each of the unserved and underserved towns. Some community organizations such as WiredWest are planning to help complete the last mile build-out, however the state is granting an initial $40 million in funds to the MBI to help the last-mile build-out in some areas, and they are also seeking funding from Rural Development and federal funds to help complete the build-out. Some organization members from WiredWest and other groups see this as a potential conflict or detriment to their own efforts thus far, and others see this as a great success for the last mile dilemma.

What is the real goal?

The real goal is to get fiber-optic broadband access to all residents of Massachusetts.

I personally cannot see any downfall to any efforts that are working towards this goal. The whole point behind the broadband movement in Massachusetts is to get the entire western end of the state into the next century’s communications needs, so every effort by every group supporting this goal should be considered. However, it is also understandable that millions and millions of dollars are involved in this build-out, and said money should be utilized as efficiently as possible so that it doesn’t go to waste.

When will everyone finally have broadband in Massachusetts?

It’s hard to say, different representatives in various community and government groups have different opinions on this, but overall I feel that it might take another two years or so to get everyone in western Massachusetts served by fiber-optics.

Many of the smaller towns (like mine) are having difficulty with the elephant in the room… enough funding and the most efficient way to get fiber-optic access run out to all of the residents, small businesses, etc. Lack of funding will definitely slow down and potentially kill the completion of fiber-optic networks in rural towns with low population levels, and our hope is that enough funding will be obtainable for all of our towns to meet the mark.

If you live in Massachusetts and you don’t have broadband, contact your town’s Broadband Committee to find out when you might get it, or maybe you could spare your time and expertise to help their efforts.

References

  1. ^ WiSpring (www.wispring.com)
  2. ^ Satellite internet (dellea.hubpages.com)
  3. ^ WiredWest (wired-west.net)
  4. ^ Western MA Connect (www.bconnect.org)
  5. ^ MassTech (www.masstech.org)
  6. ^ MBI (massbroadband123.com)
  7. ^ July 2011 in Sandisfield, MA (youtu.be)
  8. ^ April 2013 in Otis, MA (youtu.be)

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