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Massachusetts Will Use $45M to Improve Broadband

A $45.5 million grant from the state and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute will pay for high-speed Internet for Pioneer Valley communities. Four Internet service providers will make the installations in about 2,000 locations.

The Massachusetts statehouse at dusk.
The Massachusetts statehouse at dusk.
(TNS) — In Florida, a rural town in northwestern Massachusetts, high-speed broadband Internet is hard to come by.

“Depending on where you live in town, you might have better access to Internet,” said Joan Lewis, the town’s administrator. “Sometimes that can prove to be dangerous for our emergency departments.”

Florida is one of the many communities in the Pioneer Valley that is slated to receive high-speed Internet lines through a $45.5 million grant provided by the state and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. The funds originated from the U.S. Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund.

Other cities and towns that are slated to benefit include Greenfield, Florida, Hawley, Monroe, Savoy, Amherst, Bernardston, Chicopee, Deerfield, Holyoke and Springfield.

Four Internet providers — Comcast, Greenfield Community Energy and Technology, Spectrum Northeast and Verizon New England — were awarded the grant as part of the state’s Broadband Infrastructure Gap Networks Program, which will install “high-speed Internet lines to about 2,000 locations in 41 Massachusetts communities that lack access to a broadband connection,” according to a statement from the institute.

This funding is a part of a process to address the “digital divide” across the state.

“Expanding digital equity is essential to building a healthy economy that benefits everyone,” said Yvonne Hao, the state’s economic development secretary. “These grants build on our ongoing work to ensure that residents can access the affordable and reliable broadband service they need to work, learn, access health care resources and connect with loved ones.”

The four organizations were awarded this grant in the first round of funding and must use the money for projects that will provide Internet access to all existing unserved and underserved serviceable locations; to deliver service that meets or exceeds Internet speeds of 100 megabits per second for downloads and 100 megabits per second for uploads; and to provide a minimum of a 20% funding match with waivers provided to certain municipalities that have existing debt obligations associated with municipal fiber grant projects.

The providers must reach substantial completion of their projects before Dec. 31, 2026.

This is not the first time government funds have flowed toward broadband infrastructure in the area.

In November 2017, former Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that would “provide immediate capital improvement needs of the commonwealth,” which included $45 million for the expansion of broadband Internet in Western Massachusetts.

That funding was a part of the “Last Mile” project, which uses state subsidies to make it economically viable for companies to connect high-speed Internet in rural towns that do not currently have it.

According to the most recent figures, of the 53 “last mile” towns in Central and Western Massachusetts, 48 of them have completed projects, and five others are on their way, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute reported.

A spokesperson for Comcast said that the $2.7 million it received will help Palmer, Monson and Ware, towns it already provides Internet to, to connect more residents to its gigabit-speed network.

“This program will help Verizon continue to build and enhance our fast, reliable network statewide while fostering digital inclusion and equity in under-resourced communities. We know that many residents depend on reliable broadband service to work, learn, and stream from home, and we look forward to expanding our network in these areas,” said Katharine Saunders, vice president and deputy general counsel for Verizon.

John Lunt, the general manager for the Greenfield Community Energy and Technology, a municipal light plant owned by the city of Greenfield, said, “GCET is committed to closing the digital divide and expanding digital equity in Greenfield,” and plans to work closely with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to implement the funding as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Spectrum Northeast declined to comment.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.