Western Massachusetts Needs and Deserves Priority in Broadband Funding (Editorial)

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Among the many geographic equity issues that leave Western Massachusetts at a disadvantage is the unavailability of high-speed Internet rates at or near the top.

In the year 2022, internet access is a necessity. The education of our children depends on it. The same goes for the daily activities of citizens of all ages, economic levels and locations.

Yet 27% of Massachusetts sites still do not have high-speed Internet access. The problem is particularly acute in western Massachusetts, where rural sections leave residents isolated from using normal and essential functions.

The state will receive $145 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to bring modern, fast Internet access to 16,000 households and businesses. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute is still mapping its most needed areas, according to the US Treasury Department, which announced the funding.

Just by looking at a population map, it’s undeniable that the western sector pays the heaviest price for its isolation. The institute should bear this in mind when determining its distribution.

When state funding is debated, leaders of highly populated areas often point out that while western Massachusetts should not be overlooked, the vast number of people live, after all, in the east. But in this particular case, the focus should be on the people least connected to high-servicing areas.

This should put the West at the front of the line.

As it has done in many other areas, the COVD-19 pandemic has laid bare inequalities in broadband access. This condition has put a large number of children behind in their education, through no fault of their own or that of their schools.

Adult society’s reliance on technology has been dramatically accelerated by the pandemic. This too showed the injustice of being left out of the loop, simply on the basis of postal code.

Underserved pockets exist throughout the state, but the need is most pronounced in rural sections such as Franklin, Hampshire, and Berkshire counties, as well as parts of Hampden County and central Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute should recognize the urgent need for better broadband in Western Massachusetts. State and municipal leaders in our region should campaign for grants.

To create a truly healthy state from east to west, the western sector must be given priority for this much-needed funding.

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