Our towns are withering. Without broadband, the future of small Western Massachusetts towns is bleak…
We’ve been living on wrong side of the digital divide for years, not able to fully participate in 21st century life and falling further behind year by year. But as last summer came into bloom, it looked like everything was about to change. True broadband—fiber to the home—seemed within our grasp.
Many of us were part of that moment, participants in historical town meetings with attendance busting standing-room-only votes to bring broadband to our communities. 24 WiredWest towns passed their funding authorizations in April, May and early June, approving $38 million to bring broadband to their towns. The mood was near euphoric. The 7 remaining WiredWest towns eligible for funding were looking forward to their town votes to join the regional project. Broadband was in our future. Finally! Detailed engineering planning and pre-construction surveys were projected to begin in a matter of months!
“Then,” said nationally recognized telecommunications policy expert, Susan Crawford, “the wheels fell off the bus.” And now, a year later, there has been no progress and all funding is currently frozen. The government agency the MBI, in charge overseeing the statewide initiative, providing 1/3 of the funding, and managing network build, has accomplished absolutly nothing.
What the hell happened?
Hundreds of town employees and volunteers across the Western Massachusetts—we were among them!—donated their time and expertise in engineering, financial, legal, technology and marketing fields to produce viable broadband solutions for their communities. WiredWest is proud to have been at the forefront of these efforts. A nationally recognized consulting firm has endorsed the WiredWest plan and the Berkman Center at Harvard University recently cited the plan in an extensive case study.
MBI has responded by releasing critical reports without offering alternatives, blocking willing private companies from partnering with towns, withholding information, changing policy decisions, restricting citizens from attending informational meetings, and this past January having their director resign in the midst of a “pause” ordered by the Governor to investigate state budgets.
In short MBI has done everything it can to Make Broadband Impossible.
Throughout the last two years the Commonwealth has spent over $8.4 million taxpayer dollars on the “Broadband Last Mile” project, including $2.3 million in salaries for MBI staff. In the last twelve months little or no progress has been made on any of the steps needed to move forward with any new network build in any unserved town.
We need to make our voice heard! We need the governor to act now to stop wasting taxpayer money. We need him and his designated agency to do its job and work cooperatively and constructively with the towns and their agencies and allocate the funds using fair policy based on local control.