iBerkshires.com staff report
BOSTON - Gov. Deval Patrick and Western Massachusetts legislators are staying true to their promise in trying to deliver broadband service to the 32 unserved communities throughout the state by 2010.
During testimony delivered this morning before the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets, officials said the approval of the broadband bond bill (An Act Establishing and Funding the Massachusetts Broadband Institute) would stimulate economic devlopment, create jobs and increase property values, tax receipts and business formation.
"The existing lack of service in over a third of Western Massachusetts cannot be ignored any longer. This digital divide slows and deters economic development, threatens public safety and health and restricts creativity in the classroom. The governor has stated many times that the entire commonwealth must be open for business and we truly cannot accomplish this goal without broadband available in all 351 municipalities," said Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, in written testimony to the committee.
The Patrick administration and local lawmakers are looking to create a Broadband Incentive Fund, capitalized by a $25 million general obligation bond and managed by a new division within the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. According to a statement released by the governor's office on Thursday, the bond authorization will seek public-private partnerships to develop broadband infrastructure.
"The fund will enable the state to direct up to $25 million toward such essential, long-lived broadband infrastructure as conduits, fiber and wireless towers, making it more cost-effective and attractive for private companies to invest additional funds and deliver complete solutions to costumers in regions without broadband access," read the statement.
Downing and Patrick joined Reps. Denis E. Guyer, D-Dalton, Daniel Bosley, D-North Adams, William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and members of the governor's administration at the hearing, as Berkshire County residents who traveled by bus to the city listened in.
Of the 32 towns in the state that are unserved by broadband, 22 are in Berkshire, Hampshire or Franklin counties. An additional 63 municipalities are considered underserved, 15 of which are in that same district. Of the 48 communities Downing represents, only 11 have access to broadband service.
"The fact is that most of my constituents do not enjoy the same technological advances taken for granted by their neighbors to the east. This is more than an inconvenience. I submit that Massachusetts' policymakers must take appropriate steps now by passing this legislation in order to ensure that companies will continue to operate, expand and relocate to all regions of our Commonwealth, so their workers will have the family-friendly option of telecommuting, and so students in every school district will have the same broadband resources available to them," said Downing.This was the only hearing scheduled on the bill, which was announced last fall by the governor in Becket.