July Infrastructure: Broadband Funding

At its May meeting the Infrastructure Committee received a request for a letter of support from a consortium of Community Colleges, including Cape Cod Community College. They are requesting a $5 million grant from the Department of Labor which will accelerate IT training across the Commonwealth and expand the tech talent pipeline by closing opportunity gaps for women and people of color. One of the functions of the Infrastructure Committee is to vet these requests for support and make recommendations to the Board of Directors.The committee agreed to draft a letter of support, which was approved and submitted. We have not yet heard the results of that request.

In June, the State had a grant program offering municipalities $250,000 in support of new fiber builds or improvements to existing fiber. Six towns on the Cape and Islands were awarded those grants: Bourne, Dennis, Mashpee, Nantucket, Oak Bluffs, and Provincetown. It was reported that residents of Bourne completed the RFP on behalf of the town, working with the town administrator to apply.

The Massachusetts legislature has several budget bills in the works and OpenCape has been working to ensure that they include funds for broadband. Senator Moran filed an amendment to the Senate Economic Development bill for $126 million that OpenCape is hoping to use to build out fiber passing 100,000 homes on the Cape and south coast. This project would be in partnership with another ISP, which has already committed a matching $125 million.

To date, Massachusetts has allocated approximately $50 million for broadband infrastructure, which is significantly less than most states. California has invested $6 billion, Virginia $2 billion, West Virginia $1.1 billion, and Maine $110 million. Members of the Infrastructure Committee feel that the legislature has more favorable views of broadband spending going forward, with a focus on closing the digital divide.

OpenCape’s new CFO, Eric Ennes, explained that as a non-profit, their business model is different. Once recurring income starts coming in, they have to invest in the community—in this case looking at last mile connection in underserved areas of the Cape.

He said that the project awaiting approval is a three year build which would create jobs for engineers and linemen in the area. It would be a model for using infrastructure funding as it was intended.

Massachusetts continues to be one of sixteen states that does not have a broadband plan.

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