Berkshire County's rural police stations are about to dive in to their technological future.
The Massachusetts Broadband Institute is in the final stages of installing a broadband trunk line through Western Massachusetts, and that line is on the brink of rolling through Berkshire County. The entire county is slated to be connected to the state trunk line by August under a program titled MassBroadband 123.
That doesn't mean all Berkshire County homes and businesses will be connected to broadband by then. Community hubs, such as town halls, libraries, schools, police stations and fire departments, will be connected first, and those entities are expected to have access to high-speed Internet by the end of this summer.
The broadband initiative has been driven in large part by folks in the Berkshires, who see its inception here as a potential driver of economic development. But a benefit to local broadband accessibility is enhanced law-enforcement capabilities and the ability to respond more rapidly to emergencies.
Some of the county's rural police stations still rely on satellite or dial-up Internet access with such slow data speeds that certain law-enforcement applications simply do not work. Officers in the field have to spend time asking the county dispatch center for background information during traffic stops. Other challenges include maintaining records, applying for grant funding, and finding law-enforcement training programs.
"When we get broadband, it should make things a lot quicker than what we have now," said Hinsdale Police Chief Nancy Daniels.
That technology challenge is recognized by the state.
"We really have a hole in Western Massachusetts that we need to fill," said Judith Dumont, director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. "It's essential that the police have access to critical justice information system on a timely basis."
She said 27 police departments in the state have no Internet access, and 85 have only dial-up capacity.
"Once we have them connected to fiber optic broadband technology, we will have better-prepared first responders," Dumont said.
Among those looking forward to faster Internet access are police stations in Savoy, Windsor, Sheffield, Egremont, Hinsdale and Peru -- all of which are scheduled to be hooked up by July at the latest.
The Tyringham Police Department knows firsthand the difference broadband can make -- it received access to the technology in December.
After WiSpring connected town facilities to the Internet through wireless technology, Tyringham Police Sgt. Patrick Holian said the possibilities broadband presented for the department were readily apparent.
He said the department is using its new access to broadband for finding and filing grant applications, accessing more training resources, coordinating case logs, and processing applications for firearms permits.
"It helps us keep up with things," Holian said "For example, the laws are always changing, but now it's all right online. It's a lot more efficient for us."
In a 2007 interview with NextGenWeb.org, then-Mayor Graham Richard of Fort Wayne, Ind., explained that he created a task force that initiated a coordinated broadband master plan shortly after his election in 2000. By 2006, the crime rate in Fort Wayne had dropped to its lowest rate in 27 years. In 2007 alone, the crime rate in that city decreased by 5.5 percent.
Coordinated public safety response to weather emergencies and hazardous materials releases also are highly enhanced with high-speed Internet access.
The added Internet capabilities also will aid in more efficient alarm and security systems for homes and businesses, furthering the goal of economic development, according to Monterey's Monica Webb, executive committee chair of WiredWest, an organization of regional broadband advocates.
Using broadband, people will have the ability to monitor their Berkshires homes from their primary residences or while away on business trips or vacations, adding a layer of personal security to the levels of local communities' policing capabilities, Webb said.
"Once a household is connected, it has much more enhanced remote home security monitoring -- real-time monitoring," Webb said. "It works for businesses, too, making the area even more attractive for new or relocating companies."
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MBI facts ...
According to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, its MassBroadband 123 initiative will:
• Connect more than 1,200 public safety entities, community colleges, libraries, medical facilities and town halls.
• Build and maintain a network that will serve 333,500 households and 44,000 businesses over one-third of Massachusetts, with more than 1 million residents.
• Provide the necessary broadband infrastructure to foster economic growth, improve health care and education, and strengthen public safety.
Funding sources ...
In July 2010, the MBI was awarded $45.4 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to build MassBroadband 123. The commonwealth's $26.2 million in matching funds comprise:
• $3.1 million from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
• $3.1 million from the Massachusetts Information Technology Division.
• $20 million from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute.