Sunday March 6, 2011

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute has chosen an operator for the $71.6 million fiber optic network that it is developing to improve wireless access for municipalities in Western Massachusetts.

Axia NGNetworks USA, a subsidiary of Axia Net Media Corp. of Canada, has reached an agreement with the MBI to manage and maintain the 1,338-mile network known as MassBroadband 123 that will connect 120 communities in the western and north central regions of the state.

The MBI is a division of the Massachusetts Technology Cooperative, which owns the MassBroadband 123 network, and will be responsible for its design and construction. The fiber optic network is expected to be completed by June 2013.

MBI Director Judith Dumont could not be reached for comment, but in a written statement she said bringing a network operator on board is a critical step for extending broadband access and bridging the digital divide.

"Axia's expertise in developing broadband networks will help us deploy high speed Internet services to residents and businesses that have been unconnected for too long," she said.

"The MBI wanted someone who truly understood what our mission was and what it does," said MBI spokeswoman Bridget Scrimenti. " Our mission is to connect the unconnected."

Last July, the MBI received $45.4 million in federal economic stimulus funds to construct the new fiber optic network. The state provided $ 26.2 million in matching funds.


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Bringing a network operator on board was the next step in the process.

" I think the MBI chose someone who has successfully run programs in the past," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, who is chairman of the joint committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. " It's a great milestone on a journey that's been too long. I think we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."

Thirteen Berkshire County towns - Alford, Becket, Florida, Hancock, Mount Washington, New Ashford, New Marlborough, Peru, Sandisfield, Savoy, Tyringham, Washington and Windsor - have no access to broadband, while 10 others have only limited access.

Based in Calgary, Alberta, Axia Net Media Corp. has broadband networks in Canada, France, Singapore, and Spain. In its home province, Axia runs a 9,320mile network known as the Alberta SuperNet, which provides high-speed Internet services to 429 communities in a mostly rural area. Founded in 1995, Axia Net Media plans to open an office in Massachusetts, according to president Murray Sigler.