Saturday April 6, 2013

They’ve come a long way from dial-up in Otis. Thursday’s Skype conversation between students at Farmington River Regional Elementary School and their counterparts in Columbia demonstrated both the way in which modern technology can enhance education and the ongoing progress of the MassBroadband123 program.

The Otis school is the beneficiary of a new fiber-optic line running from Springfield to Sandisfield, one of a series of new lines activated in the past week to bring faster, expanded broadband service to Western Massachusetts communities. It was appropriate that Governor Deval Patrick, who has a home in Richmond, was in Otis for the event, as he began pushing for expanded broadband early in his tenure, and with the help of the Legislature, progress has come surprising quickly after years of stagnation. State Senator Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield and state Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli of Lenox, both diligent advocates for expanded Internet access in the Berkshires, are among the many who helped lay the groundwork for Thursday’s event.

The infrastructure is now largely in place to provide high-speed access to the town halls, libraries and police and fire stations in rural Berkshire communities. The next step is the so-called "last mile" to rural homes, which WiredWest is helping expedite. A proposal for $40 million to advance this final link is before the Legislature.

The fiber-optic lines that have been fired up will have significant benefits for public institutions, schools in particular. What follows will, among other benefits, enable small Berkshire towns to attract small businesses and at-home workers who would live to live and work in these bucolic communities if given the opportunity. Now it is coming.