Berkshire Eagle Runs Down Western Massachusetts' Digital Divide

Berkshire Eagle - February 4, 2017


Eagle Eye Team Report: Broadband expansion languishes in Berkshires


Written by Larry Parnass & Patricia LeBoeuf

Nearly 10 years ago, Gov. Deval Patrick came to Becket with a promise of information-age equity: broadband internet service across Western Massachusetts. By 2011, he said.

And yet the “digital divide” persists.





Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, has studied the issue nationally from his base in Minnesota.

Governments can and should build their own broadband networks, he said.

“Getting high-quality internet is not the first time we’ve done this. We electrified the entire country and did it in a fiscally responsible manner,” he said.

Rather than start with a middle mile, Mitchell thinks Massachusetts should have fostered last-mile connections with alternative ways of connecting to distant trunk lines on the internet. And when it comes to local town networks, he believes people should think of what’s best locally.


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Berkshire Eagle - February 6, 2017


Inside the broadband meltdown: WiredWest retools after losing faceoff with MBI


Written by Larry Parnass

A broadband vision for the Berkshires crashed and burned one afternoon in December 2015.

A year later, people still poke through the wreckage. They want to understand why the Massachusetts Broadband Institute halted its long-running alliance with WiredWest, a nonprofit, grassroots cooperative that had signed up dozens of towns to build and operate a shared internet network.





Nakajima, the former MBI executive director, said the initial WiredWest plan did possess an element of “genius.” That lay, he said, in its hope to support the well-being of the whole network, melding more affluent towns in with communities that face financial hardships, all for mutual advantage.

That’s the same view taken by some who study broadband networks nationally.

By shifting to an emphasis on private, for-profit providers, the MBI puts consumers at a disadvantage, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minnesota.

“I think that is a recipe for these communities being poorly served,” said Mitchell, who said he has followed the Massachusetts project.

“The MBI folks decided that they knew better,” he said. “I think MBI put way too much on what high-priced consultants said.”

But he concedes that aspects of the MBI criticism of the WiredWest plan were on target, while others were overstated.


Read the full story here.