Still waiting in Western Massachusetts

Thirty-two towns across Western Massachusetts have no high speed Internet access, and another 63 struggle with access that is severely limited.

Maureen Mullaney lives in one of those towns, Ashfield, Mass. And the lack of high speed Internet is taking its toll on her and her family:

Fed up with a painfully slow dial-up Internet connection at home, Mullaney often drives her children into town, where they sit outside the library to pick up a wireless Internet signal on their laptops in order to do research.

"How silly is it that in this day and age, you have to get in your car in the middle of winter, drive to the center of town, sit in your car with it running, while your child can research the traditional clothing of Chile?"

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a strong advocate for expanding high speed Internet access, has been working to fix these problems. Last summer he announced a plan to invest $25 million into connecting underserved parts of the state to high speed networks. And last fall, he filed legislation to create the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to bring high speed Internet to all Western Massachusetts communities by 2010.

But currently the bill remains languishing in the state legislature, while Maureen Mullaney, her families, and thousands more Massachusetts residents struggle with dial-up. It's gotten so bad, Mullaney has even considered moving from the town and home she loves.

Donald Dubendorf, president of Berkshire Connect, highlighted the importance of high speed Internet for communities like his:

"Connectivity today is as necessary to this economy as roads were, electricity, etc. These are basic fundamental building blocks of community. Absent that, you suffer. Absent that, your portion of the citizenry becomes second or third class. This is about how we raise our kids, about how we enjoy our communities."

But it appears that for at least the near future, these communities will continue to get left behind. Until the state or federal government takes real action, the free market alone won't get these communities connected. As Mullaney said,

"Until this takes on the status of rural electrification in the 30s and the government acknowledges that this is an equity issue for everyone, I don't think I'll see anything. It doesn't make dollars and sense for the Internet provider to pony up the cash to bring Internet service to my house. So there's got to be some sort of significant and high-level subsidy for it to happen."

Better than dial-up, but not good enough (Speed Matters)

High-Speed Internet Needs to 'take on the status of rural electrification in the 30s' in Western Massachusetts (Women's International Perspective)

Governor Patrick Reiterates His Commitment to High Speed Internet Accessibility (Speed Matters)

Governor leads the way to universal high speed access in Massachusetts (Speed Matters)

Massachusetts Gov. sets 2010 goal for statewide high speed access (Speed Matters)

Leaving Western Massachusetts Out in the Cold (Speed Matters)