Sunday, April 22, 2007

Massachusetts lieutenant governor promises broadband support

POSTED: April 21, 2007

High-Speed Internet in the Berkshires: A plan for broadband

Lt. Gov. is 'confident' that bond package will bring substantial funding.

By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff

HANCOCK, Mass. -- Berkshire County towns that have long tried to beg or borrow
broadband Internet service could go from paupers to princes in a bond package
now being pieced together by Gov. Deval L. Patrick's administration. Lt. Gov.
Timothy P. Murray yesterday told a gathering of Berkshire County's technorati,
town officials, educators and residents that Patrick is planning to send a
request for a bond package to the Legislature this summer. In it, Murray said,
the governor expects a substantial piece of funding to bring high-speed
Internet service to every Western Massachusetts town.

The meeting . dubbed a Broadband Roundtable and held at Jiminy Peak Ski Resort
. began with representatives of Berkshire Connect, Pioneer Valley Connect, the
Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and others describing the shortage of
broadband service in Western Massachusetts and a $20 million plan to fix it.
Murray said that he and the governor are aware of the shortfall and of the
plan. He said they consider expanding broadband service an investment that can
lead to economic growth.

Though he stopped short of naming a figure, Murray said he was "confident" that
"we will be able to deliver (funding) in a fairly significant way that will
move the ball forward."

In an interview afterward, Murray said that the bond bill is still being

"This is something that we are looking at. We understand that there needs to be
some level of investment to move this, to incentivize the private sector. ... I
am hopeful that we can make some headway. But it is too early to talk about a
dollar figure."

Many communities throughout Berkshire County and Western Massachusetts have
little or no broadband service. Residents have to rely on near-obsolete dial-up
connections or pay for more expensive . though not much faster . satellite

In Berkshire County, towns like Hancock, Becket, Peru and Washington have no
broadband service at all, while others are "underserved," with one provider
and, often, access to less than half the town.

"We all understand how critical broadband service is going to be to our
communities going forward," said state Rep. Denis E. Guyer, D-Dalton. "(It
affects) our ability to compete, our ability to attract jobs, and, more
importantly, our ability to attract residents to this end of the state, which
is declining in population."

Donald Dubendorf, the chairman of Berkshire Connect, said, "We know the
problem, we know it well, and we think we now have the means to solve this

The means involve a plan that would bring a fiber optic cable or microwave
tower to some central point in Western Massachusetts. That would extend a
broadband highway to the region, but would not get the signal over the
difficult "last mile" that would reach homes and offices.

To do that, the group is proposing to use wireless connections that would be
broadcast to customers. Private companies such as WiSpring in Great Barrington
are already trying to do this, and the backers of this plan expect that other
private companies would get involved, encouraged by ready access to a broadband

If funded, the backers estimated that it would take two to three years to
install the new network.

Although Murray was supportive, he cautioned against overoptimism. Though he
did not use former Gov. Mitt Romney's name, he said the last administration
left a plaque of deferred maintenance and unfunded projects as well as a $1.3
billion budget deficit. Fixing that will take time, he said.

"We are not going to be able to change it overnight. We didn't get into this
situation overnight," Murray said. "All I can tell you ... is that we are
working as fast as we can and as effectively as we can on a lot of fronts to
try to address this type of indifference. It's frustrating, it makes you angry,
we share your frustration, but we are trying to move as quickly as we can."


Jack Dew can be reached at or at (413) 496-6241.


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