When Candace Cihocki-Ahern and Bill Ahern moved into their new home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, they were expecting to have internet access. However, they were disappointed to find out that the only available option in their area was DSL, a slower and less reliable form of internet connection. Despite living close to the town center and having neighbors with Spectrum internet service, the couple was told that they were not serviceable. This became a significant issue for them as they both work remotely from home.
Desperate for a solution, Cihocki-Ahern and Ahern attended a program led the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) in hopes of finding a viable internet alternative. The MBI, created in 2008 with a budget of $400 million, aims to make affordable, high-speed internet available to all residents, offices, and municipal sites in the state. The program seeks to bridge the technology gap among different groups and ensure internet connectivity for everyone.
During the program, it was revealed that 11% of Berkshire County residents do not have a laptop, 27% do not have an internet subscription, and 15% lack both. These statistics have a disproportionate impact on specific population groups. A statewide survey also indicated that many respondents felt their internet service was inadequate and struggled with affordability. In Berkshire County, the lowest-cost broadband plan is $68 per month, with affordability gaps being more significant in certain areas.
The Pittsfield program served as a platform for participants to discuss and share their experiences and ideas regarding internet access and technology. The main themes that emerged were affordability, digital literacy, education on technology usage, and security.
Although no decisions have been made regarding the allocation of state funds to Berkshire County, the MBI plans to take into account the needs and gaps identified communities. Similar presentations and listening sessions will be held across the state to gather feedback and create investment recommendations.
It is hoped that through these efforts, residents in Stockbridge and other underserved areas will soon gain access to high-speed internet and close the digital divide.
Sources: Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI)