All Part of the Broadband Plan
About $5 million of Massachusetts’s initial grant will go toward planning activities, such as asset mapping high-speed internet service adoption, affordability, equity, access and deployment. NTIA considers areas unserved if upload/download speeds fail to reach 25/3 megabits per second and underserved if they fall short of 100/20Mbps.
The state will also use the money to:
- Conduct community surveys to understand barriers to internet adoption
- Create a Massachusetts-specific digital needs assessment
- Award subgrant funding to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, which will develop the data-driven action plan
MBI has experience running last-mile grant programs worth more than $94 million, extending broadband infrastructure to homes across 53 communities, primarily in western and central Massachusetts. The state has also received an Economic Development Administration planning grant it used to begin mapping its digital divide.
“We have a beta version of our statewide broadband map that we’re using to validate coverage information with the providers in the state,” MBI Director Michael Baldino says. “We did get significant participation from providers on a voluntary basis.”
An additional $1 million of Massachusetts’s grant is for MBI to develop a statewide digital equity strategy. In accordance with the Digital Equity Act, the state will hire a digital equity and inclusion specialist to execute the strategy, with a consortium of higher education institutions and engage with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance on best practices.
MBI already stood up community Wi-Fi hotspots and launched regional partnerships last year targeting communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ultimately, NTIA expects states to establish three grant programs to ensure people and communities have the skills, technology and capacity to benefit from the digital economy being created.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., said in a statement that 8 percent of his district lacks access to reliable internet. “In this day and age, where we live much of our lives online, that is simply unacceptable,” he said. “Digital equity is critical for success in the 21st century, which is why this funding afforded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is so important.”
Well Positioned for Digital Equity
Signed in November 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided $65 billion for broadband, including more than $42 billion for the BEAD Program and nearly $2.8 billion for Digital Equity Act programs.
NTIA will distribute the remaining funds using a formula in which each state receives $100 million plus a portion based on their unserved and underserved high-cost locations. The budget for every state’s subgrant program will be communicated, and states will have 180 days to submit initial proposals — the approval of which will release 20 percent of their funding.
MBI is confident it already has a “firm understanding” of the locations that need the investment, Baldino says.
“We believe we’re really well positioned, given the work that we’re already doing, and the plans just build upon that,” he says. “We feel very good that there will be a strong pipeline of digital equity projects that we’ll be able to launch.”