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Massachusetts Broadband Institute Eligible for Federal Funds; Unveils Interactive Survey

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NEW SALEM, MASS., May 26, 2009 – Governor Deval Patrick (D) on Tuesday designated the Massachusetts Broadband Institute as the “eligible entity” for receiving broadband data funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Patrick spoke with Massachusetts Broadband Institute Director Sharon Gillett, and with Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., at an event at which the institute unveiled a new interactive survey, built as a Google Maps mashup.

In addition to the institute, a non-profit entity, serving as the entity responsible for receiving broadband data funding from the federal government, the officials said that the institute would be responsible for aggregating Massachusett's applications to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to “ensure a balanced portfolio of the state’s needs reaches the NTIA.”

In the interactive survey, Massachusetts residents and businesses are asked to provide information about the speed, price, availability of the broadband that they receive at their location. In addition, residents are invited to comment on their service.

Since January 2008, has been collecting data about what it calls the Broadband SPARC: Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. The data about the the local Broadband SPARC is freely available on under a Creative Commons License.

For nearly two years, Massachusetts has taken a strongly data-centric approach to collecting and publishing broadband data. In June 2007, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative published a township-by-township map, with carrier-specific broadband information, highlighting unserved and underserved areas in the state.

Local governments within the western portion of the state recently updated the map [PDF], based  upon Verizon Communication’s announced upgrades to the digital subscriber line (DSL) service that it offers in portions of Berkshire County and the Pioneer Valley region.

Massachusetts appears to be taking a multi-pronged approach to data-collection. In addition to working with the state agency responsible for Geographic Information Systems – they are partnering on developing a block-level map of broadband infrastructure – Massachusetts is  also taking a bottom-up approach  to collecting broadband information from citizens.

Through the grass-roots efforts of broadband organizers in the western portion of the state, Berkshire Connect and Pioneer Valley collected nearly 5,000 survey responses about the quality of broadband service from residents. Among respondents that had broadband, 16 percent rated their service as “excellent,” with equal portions rated in “good,” “fair” or “poor.” Among those without broadband, 63 percent said it wasn’t available, while 12 percent it was too expensive. [PDF]

With the Tuesday announcement, Massachusetts continues its efforts at public collecting and releasing broadband data at an extremely fine level of granularity.

Highlighting the importance of the granular approach to data collection, Olver said, “It is critically important that decision-makers have a clear understanding of exactly where broadband is accessible and where it is not."

Olver also noted that the majority of unserved and underserved citizens in the state of Massachusetts were "in his district."

Statewide studies in Massachusetts have identified 25,000 businesses and 221,000 households that “lack adequate broadband” because their current access is either limited or unavailable.

-Drew Clark, Editor,, contributed to this article.

Andrew is an expert in web usability, product design and user-generated content. He has worked for the Sunlight Foundation, the Center for Public Integrity, and the American Farmland Trust. He was Chief Operating Officer of Broadband Census LLC from July 2009 to February 2010.

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