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Senate Passes Broadband Legislation to Ensure Massachusetts Captures Federal Stimulus Funds

July 14, 2009

The Senate today passed a bill that allows the state to leverage federal stimulus funds to expand affordable broadband access throughout the Commonwealth.

“The passage of this bill brings the Commonwealth closer to its goal of providing affordable high-speed Internet access to all homes, businesses, schools, libraries, medical facilities, government offices and other public places across the state,” stated Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), whose committee, the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, heard the bill and brought it to the floor for a vote.  “Investments in broadband are critical to our economy, and by passing this bill now, we are able to maximize federal dollars.”

Many of the provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) include “use it or lose it” deadlines that require states to use federal funds quickly or the funding will be reallocated to other states. Changes to current state law were necessary to meet these deadlines and other ARRA requirements. The bill ensures that the Commonwealth takes full advantage of ARRA funding for deployment of broadband infrastructure.

The bill positions the Commonwealth for long-term economic growth, as more areas of the state will have the tools they need to compete in the global economy, and clarifies state zoning and permitting rules to expedite the availability of broadband.

Specifically, the bill:

– Authorizes the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) to use funding to acquire rights of use and licenses to existing federal infrastructure;

– Makes zoning petitioning consistent with the 2007 reorganization of the former Department of Telecommunications and Energy, with petitions for zoning of communications or cable facilities going to the Department of Telecommunications and Cable, and all other public service petitions going to the Department of Public Utilities;

– Clarifies that the MBI may be exempt from local zoning by-laws or ordinances so long as the MBI is acting within the confines of its essential government function, the deployment of broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved citizens of the Commonwealth;

– Authorizes MassHighway to enter into long-term leases with the MBI so that fiber and conduit can be deployed along certain existing right-of-ways in parallel with certain MassHighway construction projects.

Having also been approved by the House today, the bill now goes to Governor Deval Patrick for his signature.

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