Universal Broadband: Opportunities and Challenges in Western Massachusetts
141 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2011
Date Written: January 17, 2011
There has been much attention recently on the need to make broadband Internet available to every household in America. Broadband is now seen as critical for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness, and enhanced quality of life. Broadband technology is changing how we educate our youth, deliver health care services, manage our energy needs, ensure public safety, engage government, and how we access, organize and disseminate knowledge. Yet the United States is behind many advanced countries in the adoption and quality of broadband. Today, only about two-thirds of Americans have broadband service in their homes. Even fewer Americans living in rural areas have adopted broadband simply because it is unavailable where they live. This problem is particularly severe in western Massachusetts. Currently there are 32 towns in the Commonwealth that are completely unserved and another 91 towns where broadband is available to less than 10% of the households.
To facilitate deployment of new broadband infrastructure and expansion of existing services in unserved and underserved communities, Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation creating the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) and providing funding for the construction of fiber, wireless towers and other critical and durable broadband infrastructure. In 2010, the MBI began building a $71 million, 1,100 mile open-access fiber-optic network - the middle mile - to begin bridging the digital divide in western Massachusetts communities. What is still needed, however, is the development of a sustainable business model for a telecommunications carrier to build the “last mile” and also provide affordable service to its customers.
To help further bridge the digital divide in Massachusetts, a team of researchers from Bentley University’s Service-Learning Center and University Honors Program offered to assist MBI in learning more about cost effective ways to deploy broadband in unserved and underserved areas and increase adoption rates in areas of low population density to make such areas more attractive to service providers. Although our report covers broadband policy and practices at a broad level, we focus on increasing access to broadband and adoption rates in rural areas and how it might apply to western Massachusetts.
1. What are advantages and disadvantages of alternative broadband technologies in overcoming the technological challenges for encouraging broadband deployment to unserved and underserved areas of western Massachusetts? 2. What are some the most effective programs and practices to increase broadband adoption in western Massachusetts? 3. What policy changes and initiatives at the state and federal level would be most helpful in supporting broadband access and broadband adoption goals?
Keywords: white space, mobile broadband, demand aggregation, BTOP, Universal Service Fund
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