Feb 06 2023

Massachusetts Remains Poised to Deliver an Internet for All Action Plan

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute has experience running last-mile grant programs and confidence in the “beta” version of the state’s coverage map.

Massachusetts’s 270-day timeline to provide the National Telecommunications and Information Administration with an Internet for All action plan began when it received a more than $6 million planning grant from the agency on Dec. 23.

The five-year plan for closing the state’s broadband internet availability gap is expected to identify unserved and underserved locations, expand its program and invest in digital equity. This assumes Massachusetts wants a portion of NTIA’s remaining Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program funding.

In 2022, NTIA awarded $304 million in planning grants to states — Massachusetts being the last among them — and intends to dole out the remaining BEAD funds by June 30. Unlike previous broadband deployment efforts, NTIA actively engages with states because they know the needs of their communities best.

“We held 26 listening sessions and office hours, as well as 24 webinars, to address concerns and questions about our grant programs last year, with more scheduled throughout this year,” an NTIA spokesperson says. “We also have hired federal program officers dedicated to each state and territory for direct, on-the-ground help in navigating the program.”

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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.”

LEARN MORE: New California law examines and studies barriers to broadband access.

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.”

Liubomyr Vorona/Getty Images

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