Mass. adding broadband access to 120 communities
BOSTON (AP) – Massachusetts is launching an ambitious project designed to bring online relief to broadband-starved communities in the central and western parts of the state, a push that officials hope will deliver on the promise of jobs and economic expansion.
The public-private project, known as MassBroadband 123, will deliver high-speed Internet access to 120 cities and towns, many of them rural, and help end the state's geographic digital divide, according to Gov. Deval Patrick.
The governor said the planned installation of 1,300 miles of fiber-optic cable is also one of the largest projects of its kind under construction in the country.
"For too long, families and businesses in western Massachusetts have lived without reliable and affordable high-speed Internet access," Patrick said. "Today ... we start the critical final step in delivering broadband access to everyone."
Patrick kicked off the project's construction Tuesday at the Sandisfield Fire Department in Berkshire County, one of nearly 1,400 schools, libraries, hospitals and public safety facilities that lack reliable Internet service.
The project, which is expected to take about two years to complete, is being paid for with state and federal funds, including $45.4 million in stimulus funding and $26.2 million in matching state dollars. Network operator Axia NGNetworks USA plans to invest $35 to $45 million in the operation and expansion of the project.
Faster Internet access has been a theme throughout Patrick's tenure as governor. In a capital spending plan from 2007, his first year in office, Patrick asked for $25 million to bring broadband to 31 western Massachusetts communities.
Patrick also pushed for the creation of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to help provide state capital funding for broadband-related infrastructure projects.
To expand high-speed Internet access in the region, the state will attach fiber-optic cable to 35,000 existing utility poles in the project's service area.
That effort is expected to provide work for hundreds of people. The fiber-optic network will ultimately serve about 333,500 households and 44,000 businesses in an area with more than one million residents.
Officials are also hoping the network will lure private investment and jobs, while also helping local governments deliver services more efficiently.
"In this day and age, no community in our commonwealth should be without high-speed Internet access," said House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop.
State Sen. Michael Knapik, a Westfield Republican who represents some of the communities that will benefit from the project, said it could also create new business opportunities for smaller and medium-sized industries in the area.
"The small towns of western Massachusetts offer a special quality of life and this investment in high-speed broadband will help our communities to connect with the new economic reality," Knapik said.
The Massachusetts Broadband Institute has signed an agreement with Omaha, Neb.-based G4S Technology LLC to help design and build the MassBroadband 123 network.
Under the agreement, G4S will complete the final design, engineering and construction of the fiber-optic Internet backbone.
Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a public economic development agency chartered by the Commonwealth to spur innovation, will own the project.
The collaborative will work with G4S to oversee the final design and construction of the network, which is expected to be completed by June 2013.
G4S has already deployed 55 miles of fiber-optic cable along Interstate 91 in Massachusetts from the Vermont to the Connecticut borders through a partnership between Massachusetts Broadband Institute and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.