The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech) announced the launch of its Residential Internet Retrofit Program, a $22 million statewide initiative to equip public and affordable housing units across the state with high-speed internet service.

“Our economic future depends on high-quality internet access for all, especially for low-income populations who have been historically overlooked and disproportionately impacted by the digital divide,” said the state’s Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao.

“The Retrofit Program takes an equitable approach to addressing the root causes of low-quality internet service in public and affordable housing,” Hao said. “This program makes direct investments that will lead to enhanced connectivity for residents, helping them engage fully in 21st century activities.”

MBI explained that it will bring together internet service providers (ISPs) and property owners to upgrade in-building telecommunications wiring, equipment, and infrastructure within older housing developments to provide residents with the necessary network capabilities to fully utilize high-speed internet service essential for daily activities such as communicating with friends and family, remote work, online educational opportunities, and telehealth appointments.

“A substantial portion of public housing buildings are more than 50 years old. Low-income families in these buildings face barriers to accessing the speeds offered by broadband service if the wiring in their apartments pre-dates the internet age,” said MBI director Michael Baldino. “The Retrofit Program will lead the charge to engage with property managers and then to engage internet service providers, who will work together to build out cutting-edge infrastructure that fully connects public and affordable housing units to high-speed internet.”

The state said the initiative will involve updating the wiring infrastructure of approximately 22,000 units in affordable housing developments across the state. Funding for the program comes from the U.S. Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund (CPF), a program launched as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.

“Access to internet should be guaranteed and protected in the same manner as other utilities like water, heat, and electric. The Residential Internet Retrofit Program by the MBI in affordable housing units is a key step towards ensuring all our commonwealth’s residents have access to what should be a public utility” said State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier. “This investment is progress towards ensuring no residents are left without internet access due to lacking infrastructure or affordability issues.”

Later this spring, MBI will launch a request for information (RFI), which will help inform the launch of a formal request for proposal (RFP) later in 2024. MBI will then issue quarterly RFPs with an updated list of eligible locations statewide, based on the submissions of interest from housing operators. MBI said that housing operators interested in joining the program should submit an expression of interest via MBI’s online form, which collects basic organizational information, along with the addresses of eligible properties the operator wishes to submit to the program.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs