Report: 18% of Worcester residents have no internet access

WORCESTER, Mass. — The City of Worcester is wading into a battle over broadband service after years of what residents say has been spotty service, with internet deserts making school and work a daily struggle.

According to a recent report by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, which cited census data, 18% of Worcester residents have no access to the internet, while 33% do not have access to broadband or high-speed internet.

“There are health impacts. There are job impacts. Most of what we do requires internet access,” said Worcester School Committee member Tracy Novik.

Novik said the impact on schools has been nearly cataclysmic. The district had to buy 5,000 hotspots and back-up hot spots so students could use cell service to log on to Chromebooks, and the IT director has had to do home visits multiple times a week.

“The assumption essentially is that everybody has home internet. And in many communities, that’s fair. But we know that it’s not fair in Worcester,” Novik said.

>>>MORE: What you need to know: Step 2 of Phase 3 begins Monday in most Mass. communities

The only service provider for Worcester is Charter-Spectrum and they’re firing back at the report, saying 99% of the city has internet access.

“The reality is, despite the widespread buildout and existing availability of broadband fiber throughout Worcester, barriers to adoption exist that prevent some families from subscribing to existing service,” the company responded.

“Our report is not about Charter-Spectrum. It’s about the fact that 18% of the public don’t have any wired broadband access in the City of Worcester.” said Paul Matthews, director of the Research Bureau.

Matthews added that the federal data compiled in the report doesn’t lie.

One of the solutions being discussed is a municipal service. Matthews said 560 municipalities nationally have adopted a version of public-private partnership including neighboring Shrewsbury and Chicopee to the west.

“It’s like any other public, government exercise. It’s important to look at what other models are available.” Matthews said. “And see if there’s an option there to better serve the public.”

Worcester city and school leadership have formed a task group to study the issue. They are also looking to the state for support.