The wiring of Berkshire County for high-speed broadband access has come at a frustratingly slow pace for many anxious rural communities, but it is worth remembering that a decade ago it was difficult to even imagine a scenario for it happening at all. Wednesday's announcement that an additional $10 million is included in Governor Patrick's FY14 Capital Plan to expand access to 45 Western Massachusetts communities, about half of which are in the Berkshires, means that small towns should be brought up to light speed.
Governor Patrick, who has a home in Richmond and a grasp of the specific challenges facing rural towns far from Boston, has made the extension of broadband access westward a priority throughout his administration, which will wrap up after two terms at the end of 2014. The Berkshire legislative delegation has been a key ally, and in April, the extension of the "middle mile" to many schools, town halls and police and fire departments deep in the Berkshires was celebrated at Farmington River Regional Elementary School, in Otis.
Some south Berkshire towns have been disappointed by a lack of progress since then ("Towns waiting for a connection," Eagle, October 21, 2013), and going that "last mile" to individual homes has posed a challenge. This funding, however, should enable towns to make that connection, and in doing so, Internet providers like Pittsfield-based CornerStone Telephone will face far fewer obstacles in wiring up rural customers like those in Otis.
According to the governor's office, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute's middle-mile efforts have triggered an additional $110 million in public and private investments, and it anticipates similar funds from the wiring of the last mile. A powerful incentive to work in the Berkshires is the ability to live in the Berkshires, but transportation and communication issues have made that challenging. Completion of the last mile will enable people to work at home in small towns and make it easier for small businesses that need the Internet more than they need roads to settle in those towns. As in a marathon, the last mile can be the toughest but when it comes to high-speed broadband there is reason to believe the Berkshires will get to the finish line.