It’s Time to Pay Attention to Broadband

It’s Time to Pay Attention to Broadband

The Broadband & Digital Equity Summit in Worcester preceded a significant announcement by the Biden Administration to provide Massachusetts with $147 million to expand high-speed internet in the state.

Written by Sophie Arjevanidze, Civic Action Project Fellow

July 7, 2023 - Last month, the Broadband and Digital Equity Summit in Worcester brought together experts, community leaders, and organizations from the local, state, and national levels to discuss the challenges of achieving digital equity in Massachusetts. Co-hosted by the National Telecommunication and Information Administration and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), the Summit marked a flurry of new funding opportunities and programs.

While technology promises a digital future, one in five U.S. households is behind in this digital world, lacking access to the Internet at home. Internet access is more than just a luxury these days – it provides education, healthcare, jobs, and entertainment. Digital access is crucial for individuals and communities to participate in society, democracy, and the economy.

MBI announces listening tour, Request for Qualifications from community-based organizations

At the Summit, the MBI announced the Internet for All Listening Tour, a series of regional meetings and focus groups that will inform the development of federal funding plans that will help Massachusetts access broadband and digital equity funding from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The listening sessions, which will start in July, are an opportunity for the public to share their experiences, ideas, and vision for a connected Massachusetts, tackling key questions around internet access, adoption, affordability, digital skills training, and device availability.

In addition, the MBI encourages community-based organizations to submit a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to plan and facilitate activities that support a human-centered engagement process for Digital Equity Act and Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) statewide planning efforts, as well as future implementation activities under these programs. Learn more about the RFQ, the target populations that MBI seeks to engage with, and how to apply at

Biden Administration awards $147M for internet access in Massachusetts

Soon after the Summit, President Joe Biden announced $42 billion in federal funds for broadband expansion across the country, $147 million of which will be directed to the Bay State. In Massachusetts, the funding will be deployed through a five-year plan that the MBI is developing with the Massachusetts Broadband and Digital Equity Working Group. Quentin Palfrey, the Director of Federal Funds & Infrastructure, noted that “the state of Massachusetts is fully committed to the support of digital equity planning to narrow the gap across the region.”

MAPC on the front lines, heeds lessons from Summit

MAPC works with municipalities, communities, and individuals to overcome barriers related to internet access through digital equity planning, procurement, and community engagement in Greater Boston. MAPC’s digital equity team joined the Summit to exchange ideas regarding what works best for our communities.

The summit emphasized the significance of effective community engagement, the availability of best practices, the importance of addressing digital equity challenges at the local level, and the power of collaboration and knowledge exchange.

  • Going beyond Zoom: Zoom meetings and calls have become an integral part of our lives and workplaces since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, meeting others offline not only fosters fruitful exchanges of ideas and knowledge, but it also helps reinforce social networks and uplifts the spirit around digital equity engagement.
  • Listen to our communities: Panelists brought examples from community outreach and shared valuable insights into effective community engagement strategies. Understanding residents’ preferences is crucial when seeking their participation, and tailored outreach efforts to specific communities maximizes engagement and participation.
  • Face the challenges: Providing robust, affordable internet is challenging, but possible by increasing competition between internet service providers (ISPs), reducing monopoly, and making self-sustainable plans. City Councilor Ian Cain, a panelist from the City of Quincy, highlighted steps required to support the implementation of digital equity initiatives and bridge any existing gaps. MAPC is actively collaborating with Quincy to provide comprehensive support for their digital equity planning process. This collaboration is a part of MAPC’s ongoing partnership with the Mass Tech Collaborative and various stakeholders, aiming to bridge the digital divide and create an inclusive and equitable digital landscape for residents of Quincy.
  • Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate: Filling gaps in understanding and enabling more effective planning and implementation strategies is only possible with collaboration and knowledge exchange, which serves as invaluable assets for planners. Panelists presented many successful examples of effective collaborations, including MAPC’s Digital Equity Plan for the Columbus Corridor area of Boston produced on behalf of Urban Edge.MAPC is also collaborating with the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments to produce a digital equity plan for the nine communities of Greater Lowell and is working on similar plans with the cities of Somerville and Quincy. Read more about our digital equity planning work here:

  • Do we have enough planners? Panelists touched on the forecasted labor shortage in Massachusetts already affecting the planning field. Developing new training programs and collaborating with universities were key recommendations, as some of the organizations recognized this approach as successful.

What's next?

More digital equity plans are ahead! A top priority is connecting historically unserved communities to essential resources. Planners across Massachusetts should have a renewed focus on making broadband access more affordable and equitable. MAPC is committed to providing procurement and technical support to our municipalities, public housing agencies, and affordable housing managers to build and maintain in-home broadband networks for their residents. For more information on MAPC’s digital equity services, visit: