LENOX -- During her meeting with local leaders, legislators and public safety officials at Town Hall on Friday, Andrea Cabral, the recently appointed state secretary of Public Safety and Security, heard an earful about ongoing gaps in cellular coverage as well as broadband Internet access in many rural areas of the Berkshires.
"To me, personally, it's unacceptable that parts of the state do not have the same level of Internet access that you have in the central and eastern parts," she declared. "That's actually insane in a world where doing virtually anything is somehow connected to the Internet. That's where the connectivity to bring the state together is, that and high-speed rail."
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, said that, with Gov. Deval Patrick's support, "we've made a lot of progress, we've got a lot more to do but we're almost there."
In response to Cabral's question on local cellphone coverage, Downing cited Verizon's affirmation that it's living up to its contracts, but also its acknowledgement that there are not enough customers in some areas to ensure profitability.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, organizer of the session, said that "in this day and age, it's ridiculous that they don't want to spend money. Somehow, the state's got to come in and say, ‘If you want to be in Massachusetts, you've got to service the state of Massachusetts even if it's Stockbridge or Tolland or anywhere else between.' It can't just be about economies of scale."
Shortfalls in funding for public safety training were among other major concerns cited by local chiefs attending the gathering. For example, Lanesborough Police Chief Mark Bashara cited statistics showing that Massachusetts ranks lowest among all 50 states for state-funded training support per officer, at $138 a year. "It's an embarrassment that needs to be addressed," he stated.
Other key points that emerged during the session:
n Lenox Fire Chief Daniel Clifford asked Cabral to support funding to expand online training for officers and volunteers.
n Lee Building Inspector Donald Torrico, noting that he and other building officials fall under state public safety regulations, contended that the departments are "forgotten" when it comes to grants for education and certification training. "We have high standards and we've become more stringent and qualified over the past eight years," he said.
n Lenox Building Inspector William Thornton noted that funding was granted for a seven-town collaboration to transfer the entire permitting process from paper documents to online. He expressed hope that financial support could be gained from Boston to extend paperless permitting countywide and beyond.