GREENFIELD — Within two years, hospitals, community colleges, fire and police departments and libraries throughout Franklin County will be connected to the rest of the world through a high-speed Internet connection. Some of the state’s leaders joined U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke at Greenfield Community College on Thursday to tout efforts to secure funding that took more than a decade to accomplish.
Locke, Gov. Deval Patrick, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Mass. and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., celebrated with local leaders the awarding of $45.5 million in stimulus funds to bring broadband Internet access to western Massachusetts.
“It’s all about access and equity,” said GCC President and host Robert Pura. “This will open more doors in higher education.”
Locke talked briefly about the national economy, saying not enough people are back to work yet and the economy is not back to full strength, but asserting that the state, and the country, are moving in the right direction.
He said providing highspeed connections to the western part of the state will mean new construction jobs — for the people digging trenches and laying hundreds of miles of fiber-optic cable — and then will lay the groundwork for long-term sustainable economic growth in the region.
“High-speed Internet will be a benefit to the economy, education and socially,” Locke said.
According to Patrick, the state will provide $26.2 million in matching funds, bringing the total for the project to $71.6 million.
“We understand how big a deal this is,” said Patrick. “I’ve heard stories about parents and children who sit outside libraries after hours to do research for school on the Internet. I’ve heard stories from small business owners who can’t expand and struggle because they don’t have broadband.
“People out east can’t believe that just an hour-and-ahalf away, others don’t have sophisticated Internet,” the governor said.
“That ends now.”
The federal stimulus money was awarded to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and its project, Massachusetts 123, which plans on creating a fiber-optic network that will connect 123 communities in the western and north-central regions of the state.
Patrick said he started down the path of bringing high-speed Internet to Franklin County and the rest of western Massachusetts 2½ years ago, when he was elected to his first term. Patrick is running for re-election in November.
“And in two years, I intend to be here, as your governor, to celebrate that moment,” he said, referring to completion of the broadband project.
Today, in the four western counties of Massachusetts, there is only one city block in the city of Springfield that can house a broadband-intensive business, putting the entire region at a major economic disadvantage, said Olver in a statement earlier this month.
Massachusetts Broadband Institute will end up providing broadband technology to 123 under-served or unconnected towns with 1,100 miles of new fiber-optic cable. Once in place, plans call for it to reach within three miles of 98 percent of homes and businesses in western Massachusetts.
The new network, which is required to become entirely functional within three years and 67 percent operational within two years, also makes use of lines connecting eastern and western Massachusetts.
The fiber network — which includes recently installed fiber along the length of Interstate 91 in Massachusetts — would provide the “middle mile” between major trunk lines and local systems that will actually connect with people’s homes and businesses.
“Some third-world countries have better access than (western Massachusetts),” said Kerry. “It’s embarrassing that I can make a better phone call in Afghanistan than some places here and in the nation’s capitol.
“That’s going to change soon.”
According to Rep. John Olver, in the four western counties of Massachusetts, there is only one city block in the city of Springfield that can house a broadband-intensive business, putting the entire region at a major economic disadvantage.
The Recorder, Anita Philips, July 9, 2010