Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Massachusetts lags in rural broadband, as studies show economic impact of high-speed Internet

Massachusetts, often on the cutting edge of many things, has left much of its rural population far behind in access to broadband, or high-speed Internet service. "State officials have yet to develop a comprehensive policy for fixing the telecom time warp. But this fall, three Western Massachusetts towns will participate in an experiment to test wireless networks in rural settings," reports Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Boston Globe.

"We are creating a new kind of ghetto," said Don Dubendorf , president of Berkshire Connect Inc., which works to bring broadband to businesses and institutions in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. "It's morally wrong. It's stupid economically, it's dangerous from a public safety point of view, it's absurd from a public education point of view." This fall, Dubendorf's company and Pioneer Valley Connect "will create WiFi hot spots in the towns of Florida, New Salem, and Worthington, with funding from the quasi-public John Adams Innovation Institute," Johnson writes. "The idea is to use radio transmitters to spread the signal from high-speed lines to create square-mile wireless broadband networks for homes, businesses, and municipal buildings, without the massive investment needed to wire every home."

The main argument for broadband is economic. Johnson cites a study by Gov. Deval Patrick's cable commissioner, Sharon Gillett, last year as co-chair of the Broadband Working Group of the Communication Futures Program of the Massacusetts Institute of Technology. It "found that among 22,390 ZIP codes, communities with broadband access recorded greater growth in jobs, businesses, and property values. The report said communities with broadband access experienced an additional 1 to 1.4 percent in their job growth rate between 1998 and 2002. Those communities also saw an added 0.5 to 1.2 percent growth rate in the number of businesses." (Read more)

Another study, reported today by the Center for Media Research, found that broadband use is "strongly correlated with household income." The study, by Leichtman Research Group found that:
  • 68 percent of all households with annual incomes over $50,000 now get broadband vs. 59 percent last year; 39% of all households with annual incomes under $50,000 get broadband vs. 27% last year.
  • While 81 percent of all US households have at least one computer, only 56 percent of those with annual household incomes under $30,000 have a computer at home. Just 45 percent of households with annual incomes below $30,000 subscribe to an Internet service at home, compared to 92 percent of households with annual incomes above $75,000.
  • Overall, only 7 percent of all Internet subscribers say that broadband is not available in their area.
  • Nearly three-quarters of households in the US now subscribe to an Internet service, and broadband has grown to account for over 70 percent of all online subscribers at home. LRG forecasts the total number of broadband subscribers will increase by over 40 million over the next five years. (Read more)

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