Ashfield — Today, the Baker-Polito Administration celebrated the impacts of the Last Mile infrastructure program and discussed new investments to support broadband access and digital equity programs across Massachusetts. To date, the Last Mile infrastructure program has delivered high-speed internet access to approximately 26,000 premises, including households and small businesses, across 53 towns in north-central and western Massachusetts. During the event, the Baker-Polito Administration also detailed its strategy to leverage over $350 million in anticipated state and federal funding to address digital equity and broadband infrastructure gaps that exist statewide, an effort which will build on the success and learnings from the Last Mile program and initial COVID response. Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy joined state and local leaders for the event in Ashfield, a community that was previously “unserved” by broadband and gained access through the Last Mile program.
“Since taking office, our Administration has been proud to develop and support the Last Mile with over $57 million dollars to provide residents in 53 towns in north-central and western Massachusetts with access to basic needs and online resources for their small businesses, for their schoolwork, and to better manage their healthcare,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Our Administration made the Last Mile one of our key priorities, as we saw high-speed internet connectivity as a critical need for the future of these small towns and we know the benefits will continue long into the future.”
“The success of the Last Mile program was supported by the time, energy, and investment of our local partners in these small communities,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “From the state side, our investments were aided by the partnership we received from the private companies and utilities involved in each of these projects, who participated in regular meetings to identify roadblocks and coordinate resources to expedite individual projects. Years of planning and construction have led to today, with homes and businesses online and residents that are benefitting from this 21st Century connectivity.”
Re-launched by the Baker-Polito Administration in 2016, the Last Mile program sought to bring high-speed internet through a flexible, responsive, and community-based approach to 53 communities in central and western Massachusetts that either completely lacked broadband infrastructure (44 unserved towns) or had large areas where infrastructure was lacking (nine partially served or underserved towns). Today, 46 of the 53 Last Mile towns have completed projects that are “fully operational” (delivering high-speed connectivity to at least 96% of premises within a community) and the remaining communities have networks that are “partially operational,” with additional customer connections that are ongoing or in final stages of construction. The Last Mile effort was made possible through a partnership among state government, municipalities, private providers, utilities, and construction contractors.
The Commonwealth invested over $57 million in direct state grants through the Last Mile program, which supported:
- Construction of municipally-owned networks, including in Ashfield, which were aided by the utility Westfield Gas+Electric;
- Private provider-led projects, opportunities identified through public procurements launched by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), opportunities which included the Broadband Extension Program (for nine ‘partially-served’ towns), and the Flexible Grant Program. Through these efforts, companies such as Comcast, Charter Communications, Fiber Connect, and WiValley received grants to complete projects in un- and under-served towns.
A map of the completion status, as well as a map showing the different project partners for each community, can be found on the Last Mile program page.
“Today’s event is a celebration of the momentous effort that has been undertaken at the local and state level to get Last Mile communities connected to high-speed internet, a necessary tool to compete in today’s economy,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “We have closed gaps in central and western Massachusetts, and are now launching new statewide infrastructure and digital equity programs to further expand infrastructure and continue our work to bring devices, digital skills training, and affordability support that will improve access to the internet.”
During the event, the Baker-Polito Administration also discussed its strategy to leverage over $350 million in anticipated state and federal funding to launch programs to address digital equity challenges statewide, including efforts to make high-speed internet more affordable, increase access to internet-enabled devices, and boost digital literacy and training:
- A Digital Equity Partnerships Program, which will support organizations, including Regional Planning Agencies, philanthropic foundations, and public and nonprofit service providers, to launch programs that address enhanced internet access, digital literacy, availability of devices, and education and outreach efforts.
- A Municipal Digital Equity Planning Program, which will enable municipalities to undertake digital equity planning activities with prequalified consultants to understand how internet access, or lack thereof, affects their residents.
- An infrastructure program to address remaining coverage gaps in every city and town in Massachusetts, to be launched by the MBI and the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and informed by successes of the Last Mile program.
- A statewide mapping portal launched by the MBI to provide an overview of the current state of high-speed internet access across Massachusetts, built on data voluntarily provided by private providers. The portal, which is currently in public beta, will be further refined and will both support the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) ongoing mapping process and impact funding allocations to the Commonwealth.
- A Broadband and Digital Equity Working Group to advise and assist on the stakeholder outreach and planning process related to state and federal funding.
The new digital equity programs build on the initiatives launched by the Commonwealth in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, which included public Wi-Fi hotspots in the remaining unserved towns and the Mass Internet Connect program, which worked with MassHire to provide financial support and digital literacy tools to help get unemployed residents back to work. In late 2021, these efforts were extended and new digital equity partnerships with organizations including Essex County Community Foundation and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council were created. The MBI also made a $1 million grant to Boston-based Tech Goes Home to expand the organization’s work statewide.
“Connecting the unconnected has been a priority throughout the Baker-Polito Administration, with the COVID-19 pandemic underscoring the importance of ensuring internet access statewide and, in particular, in our most vulnerable communities,” said Undersecretary of Community Development Ashley Stolba. “We are grateful to the many public and private partners who have supported efforts to expand internet access in Massachusetts and who will continue to play a critical role as we work to further address infrastructure gaps, promote internet adoption, and reduce digital inequities moving forward.”
“The programs launched today will be directly informed by the legacy projects we’ve managed at the MBI, including the Last Mile effort and the initiatives launched in 2020,” said Carolyn Kirk, Executive Director of the MassTech Collaborative, the parent agency of the MBI. “This includes technical and program knowledge, but also the relationships we’ve built with stakeholders in the state, community leaders and non-profits that are leading the charge around digital equity. The funds that are allocated will only be effective with the input and buy-in from these stakeholders, to shape the programs so that they have the greatest impact statewide.”
During the event, community leaders weighed in on the impact of the Baker-Polito Administration’s broadband investments in their communities, generating new opportunities around economic development, learning, and to access critical healthcare resources.
The impact of the statewide programs were also celebrated by members of the Massachusetts legislature, several of who were in attendance at the event in Ashfield, along with their constituents.
“Today’s celebration was a testament to the strength and resiliency of some our tiniest – but mightiest – towns in the Commonwealth,” said Representative Natalie M. Blais. “As a result of our collective efforts, previously unserved towns now have the technology that will help them thrive. Individuals and families can live, learn and work in these communities that offer a high quality of life and spectacular natural beauty.”
"The way broadband has changed the potential in my communities has been thrilling to watch,” said Representative Lindsay Sabadosa. “Whether it means easier access to online learning, telehealth, or e-commerce, equitable access is key to the future of our state and our region."