Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Massachusetts Broadband: Governor Patrick Appoints Sharon E. Gillett to Head Massachusetts Broadband Institute 04/29/09 Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick today announced the appointment of Commissioner Sharon E. Gillett to serve as the first Executive Director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI).

Ms. Gillett recently resigned her position as Commissioner of the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable (DTC), in order to prepare to move to become the first chief of the Commonwealth's broadband development authority.

"Investing in broadband is essential to ensuring that our businesses can compete in the global economy, that our children receive the highest quality education, and that our citizens have access to high quality health care and other vital public safety services,” said Governor Patrick. “I am confident that Sharon’s leadership and expertise will be a tremendous asset as we accelerate broadband deployment efforts throughout the state.”

The MBI is a state authority authorized by the Massachusetts Legislature, via legislation signed by Patrick in August of 2008, to develop broadband telecommunications networks in the unserved and underserved areas of Massachusetts. The MBI was inaugurated with a budget of $40 million from state bonding authority, to be dispersed to approved broadband projects. Analysts of the Massachusetts broadband and economic developmental scene believe the majority of MBI's capital projects will be conducted in the 32 towns in Western Massachusetts which have been found to be fully "unserved" by broadband cable, telephone, or wireless networks.

Ms. Gillett had served as Patrick's first Commissioner of the DTC since the spring of 2007. The DTC was created in 2007 as a separate regulatory agency for telecommunications carriers and cable television operators doing business in Massachusetts, as part of Patrick's reorganization of state government in his first several months in office. Previously the regulatory activities of the DTC were housed within the Department of Telecommunications and Energy (DTE), which oversaw regulated electric utilities as well as telecom and cable firms.

Patrick's commitment to bringing broadband facilities to Western Massachusetts began as a pledge during his successful 2006 campaign for governor. In his October 2007 message to legislators filing the bill that created the MBI, the Governor stated his intent to have the state authority "...make strategic and targeted public investments with the objective of providing high-speed Internet, or broadband, service to all currently un-served communities by 2010."

Funding for the MBI's capital investment programs has been further enhanced by the broadband stimulus provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), signed by President Obama on February 17. The stimulus Act appropriates a total of $ 7.2 for broadband projects in regions of the US determined to be either "unserved" or "underserved." Two federal agencies, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) within the Department of Commerce, and the Rural Utilities Service within the Department of Agriculture (USDA-RUS) will disperse the broadband stimulus funds. tracks broadband programs in all 50 states. That effort leads us to believe that states like Massachusetts that have established broadband development agencies stand to gain the most what will be highly competitive grant rounds.

As Patrick's DTC Commissioner, Ms. Gillett became a leading spokesperson nationally. Shortly after the federal rulemaking process commenced, on March 12, the Massachusetts DTC became one of the first state agencies in the nation to issue suggested guidelines for the administration of the broadband stimulus monies. Commissioner Gillett's filed input argues for a strong state role in the federal broadband effort, stating "... We recommend that each governor be asked to designate one point of contact for the state for the grant programs, and that NTIA defer to that entity..".

Commissioner Gillett is considered a national leader in the effort to rework federal and state programs and regulations to bring broadband services to rural and other unserved regions. Until her current appointment, she had served on the Telecommunications Committee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). In February she appeared on the C-SPAN cable network's program entitled "The Communicators", discussing broadband stimulus provisions in the draft ARRA then moving through Congress.

Prior to her appointment to head the DTC, Ms. Gillett "...was a Principal Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she chaired the Broadband Working Group of MIT’s Communications Futures Program and taught courses on telecommunications and Internet policy," according to the DTC's website. Ms. Gillett received her MBA and MS in Technology and Policy from MIT and her AB in Physics from Harvard.
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