Steps Taken to Ensure Massachusetts is Eligible for Maximum Amount of
Federal Funding to Support Broadband Deployment Initiatives
Boston – Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) announces today the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives passed legislation enabling the Commonwealth to take full advantage of federal stimulus funds authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for broadband deployment initiatives.
Downing, a major proponent of legislation in 2008 establishing the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and funding it with a $40 million state capital bond authorization, helped to shepherd this stimulus-related proposal through the Senate today.
The MBI is tasked with extending affordable high-speed Internet access to all homes, businesses, schools, libraries, medical facilities, government offices and other public places across the state, focusing first on unserved areas.
“Passage of this legislation puts Massachusetts in a solid position to gain access to federal funds that will assist MBI with its mission,” said Downing. “Today, reliable broadband service is not considered a luxury - it is a necessity for continued economic development, engaging educational opportunities, higher property values and advanced public safety initiatives. Pairing available federal funds with state bond monies will further our efforts to ensure all currently unserved and underserved communities will soon be plugged-in to a reliable high speed internet connection.”
Downing represents 48 communities in western Massachusetts, 22 of which are unserved – or completely without access to broadband – as well an additional 15 towns with only partial access to high speed internet.
The broadband stimulus bill is largely a technical proposal with four main components:
· Authorization for the MBI to use its fund to acquire indefeasible rights of uses of fiber facilities and FCC licenses;
· Clarification that petitions relative to the zoning of a communications or cable facility will be reviewed by the Department of Telecommunications and Cable and petitions relative to all other types of public service facilities will be reviewed by the Department of Public Utilities;
· Clarification that the MBI may be exempt from local zoning by-laws or ordinances so long as the MBI is acting within the confines of its essential government functions; and
· Authorization of a transfer of Mass. Highway Department property to the MBI to enable certain broadband initiatives along the I-91 corridor.
Congress authorized $7.2 billion in ARRA for broadband deployment initiatives. Information and updates from the MBI is available at www.massbroadband.org.