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Massachusetts Agency Loses Grantmaking Ability, But Still In Charge Of Failed Government-Run Network

April 14, 2017

In a handful of blog posts over the last few months, the Coalition for the New Economy has explored the failure of Massachusetts’ statewide, government-owned network, MassBroadband123. This network has consumed nearly $90 million in taxpayer funds, $45.4 million from federal taxpayers and $44.3 million in “matching” funds from Massachusetts.

Now, according to a report from MassLive.Com, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has relieved the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), a “quasi-public state agency” that is in charge of MassBroadband123, of some of its responsibilities. Specifically, the institute no longer will be in charge of $20 million in grants to rural communities. The Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, which reports to the governor, will now oversee that funding. The MBI will continue to “negotiate and oversee private provider contracts for turnkey cable networks in certain towns.”

One city leader called MBI a “failure.” That’s certainly true, but will this change spur multiple other, local failures, while doing nothing to change the fate of the statewide network? That seems like it could be the case.

First, the $20 million in grant funding will still allow rural communities to build their own broadband networks. MassLive explained, “The new grant program will be modeled after MassWorks,” which helps “municipalities build water and sewer plants, pedestrian walkways, parking lots, and other infrastructure.” If cities choose to move ahead with municipal broadband systems, MassLive says they “will have to pay for about two-thirds of the cost themselves,” which “will mean local borrowing and a tax increase.”

Can you say Provo, Utah? (Provo’s failed local network was infamously sold for $1 to Google.)

Additionally, the governor’s decision keeps MBI in charge of the MassBroadband123, which is still “in danger of going dark” since the private operator working with MBI has filed for bankruptcy.