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Opinion: Western Massachusetts Deserves Broadband Funding

Of the many geographic equity issues that leave Western Massachusetts at a disadvantage as compared to other areas, the unavailability of high-speed Internet rates at or near the top of the list.

(TNS) — Of the many geographic equity issues that leave Western Massachusetts at a disadvantage, the unavailability of high-speed internet rates at or near the top.

In the year 2022, internet access is a necessity. Education of our children relies on it. So do everyday activities of citizens of all ages, economic levels and locales.

Yet 27% of locations in Massachusetts still lack high-speed internet access. The problem is especially acute in Western Massachusetts, where rural sections leave residents isolated from utilizing both normal and essential functions.

The state will receive $145 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to bring modern, fast internet access to 16,000 households and businesses. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute is still mapping out its areas of most need, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, which announced the funding.

Simply by looking at a population map, it is undeniable that the western sector is paying the heaviest price for isolation. The institute must keep that in mind as it determines its apportionment.

When state funding is debated, it’s often pointed out by leaders in highly populated areas that while Western Massachusetts should not be neglected, the vast numbers of people live, after all, in the east. But in this particular case, the emphasis needs to aim at those least connected to high service areas.

That should put the west at the head of the line.

As it did with so many other areas, the COVD-19 pandemic bared the inequities in broadband access. This condition has put large numbers of children behind in their education, through no fault of their own or their schools.

The adult society’s reliance on technology was dramatically accelerated by the pandemic. This, too, showed the unfairness of being left out of the loop, simply based on ZIP code.

Underserved pockets exist statewide, but the need is most pronounced in rural sections such as Franklin, Hampshire and Berkshire counties, as well as parts of Hampden County and in Central Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute should recognize the urgent need for better broadband in Western Massachusetts. Our region’s state and municipal leaders should campaign for grant funding.

To create a truly healthy state from east to west, the western sector must get priority for this much needed funding.

© 2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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