More than 25 cities and towns have formed a coalition to facilitate networking among communities with broadband ambitions.

The Massachusetts Broadband Coalition started with a group of local officials along the south coast who were aware of each other’s efforts and felt that it might be helpful to share experiences and ideas and pool resources. The group identified common areas of concern, including the lack of competition among internet service providers in their communities, service quality concerns, and digital equity concerns.

Group members felt overwhelmed by information about $65 billion in federal funding for broadband and $200 million available in Massachusetts through the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, saying the programs, especially at the federal level, are fluid and have yet to fully define eligibility requirements for grants.

Coalition members are finding it helpful to share knowledge, some of which has been gained through working with their own consultants, as some communities have been studying the feasibility of building fiber optic networks to residences and businesses.

Coalition members felt there was likely common ground among the 77 communities that received grant funding from the state’s Municipal Fiber Grant Program, a program that has awarded more than $13 million. The coalition’s outreach has brought in communities from across Massachusetts.

At the coalition’s most recent monthly meeting, on March 22, representatives from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute discussed digital equity planning and capacity building. They said grant programs are available without matching fund requirements.

Coalition members pointed out that an upcoming opportunity has a deadline of May 1. The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, according to its website, is responsible for distributing more than $48 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding through several different programs. The NTIA is seeking comments on the $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act of 2021, and on the design and implementation of two components of that grant program: the $1.44 billion State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the $1.25 billion Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.

The coalition plans to review the 24 questions being asked by the NTIA.

Several coalition communities have expressed interest in working together to study the NTIA model for how to form a public-private partnership, with the goal of driving economies of scale to a point where building a shared, open access network would be feasible.

Those interested in joining the Massachusetts Broadband Coalition or signing up for its listserv can do so on its website:

Written by Bob Espindola, Select Board member in Fairhaven and a founder of the Massachusetts Broadband Coalition