So if we determine that broadband is one of the “basic facilities, services, and installations needed for the functioning of a community or society” then I would say yes, government has a role in broadband policy. I am clear that the Saint Paul Broadband Advisory Committee did indeed feel that broadband has become a basic infrastructure.
MassBroadband 123 Lights Up in Rural Massachusetts
The Massachusetts Broadband Initiative's (MBI) MassBroadband 123 network is becoming a reality. On March 28th, MBI lit up the first 35-mile stretch, linking Sandisfield, traveling through Otis, and connecting at the Springfield Technical Community College Technology Park hub. The inaugural connection was the first in a series of build outs that are scheduled to be completed by July 2013 [PDF of map and schedule].
MassBroadband 123 is the middle mile open access network snaking its way across central and western Massachusetts. The project, funded with $40 million in state bond proceeds and $45.4 million in stimulus funding, is scheduled to bring the 1,200 mile network to the anchor institutions in approximately 120 communities. While MassBroadband 123 will not offer last-mile connectivity to residents, it will bring the possibility to many rural areas that have little or no options today. Communities with their own networks, like Leverett, will be able to connect with MassBroadband 123. Hopes are that the open access nature of the network will inspire private providers to offer more last-mile connections.
MassLive.com reported on the first use of the network by school children in rural Otis. Kids at Farmington River Elementary School connected in Spanish with kids from Columbia and learned about physics from the NASA Goddard Space Fight Center in Maryland:
“It was really excellent,” said Mary G. Turo, principal of Farmington River Elementary, in a phone interview.
“We are a little isolated,” Turo said. “Having the capability to bring the outside world to us, you cannot put a price on it. We want our kids to be ready for the future. In order to be ready to for the future they have to know what is going on outside their hometown .”
Judith Dumont, director of MBI, compares the expansion of the network to government efforts to expand electricity in the 1930s. From the article:
Back then, the profit motive wasn’t enough to bring electricity to small towns, so the government stepped in to help build economies.
“This project says it is not OK for these communities to be left out of the 21st century economy,” she said.
While we agree with Judith regarding the need for public and private investment, we would go a bit further to note that when the federal government stepped in with electrification, it made sure that the connections were controlled by the community via coops and local governments. We wish our present federal government learned those lessons too and didn't believe that throwing money at Wall Street firms would solve rural problems.
We believe MassBroadband 123 is an important tool to help rural Massachusetts communities but we believe further public investment will be necessary to make sure everyone is connected. And where public dollars are spent, networks should be accountable to the community - now and in the future.