Governor Baker OKs broadband bond

Recorder Staff
Published: 11/21/2017 7:52:14 PM

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker signed a $244 million bond bill for capital improvement needs on Tuesday, including $45 million for broadband infrastructure that will benefit many rural western Mass. towns.

“Increasing the authorization for broadband services will help continue the work the administration has done to increase access to high speed internet in all communities,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “The administration encourages the Legislature to take action once the new session begins on the remaining bond requests before them, including funding for municipal grant programs, for IT equipment … and other local priorities.”

In May 2016, the Baker administration started a new Last Mile leadership team, with state broadband grants to be overseen by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. Since then, about 41 out of 54 towns with no broadband access, or only partial access, have working projects supported with state funding as town grants or incentive for a commercial provider, such as Comcast, to expand its internet cable network.

“With this new funding, the administration is going the extra mile to ensure we continue to build the momentum we have in closing the broadband gap for communities in western and central Massachusetts,” said Jay Ash, Housing and Economic Development secretary. “High speed broadband internet is a necessity in today’s internet-connect world, and we will continue to work with municipalities to pursue collaborative solutions that best fit the unique needs of our unserved communities.”

According to the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, $13 million of the broadband money will go to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to cover infrastructure investments in the 1,200-mile MassBroadband 123 (“Middle Mile”) network, that was started in 2014. The remaining $32 million will be administered by EOHED under the “extra mile” initiative, as an emergency fund for towns that are constructing municipally owned broadband networks — and paying at least 60 percent for the total building cost. This money will be a contingency for unexpected cost overruns, so that construction is not delayed.

Also, the $32 million will include grants for 10 towns that are not under contract, but which are still considering ways to close the broadband gap in their communities.

Area lawmakers were unavailable to comment on the governor’s action.

The rest of the bill includes $199 million to replace a long-term facility at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, and to study building needs for the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke.


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