The headline on the March 4 front page of the Eagle declared that for high-speed Internet, "Full access for county is closer to reality." Closer yes, but for most of us, there is still a long way to go.
The Massachusetts Broadband Institute will complete construction of its "middle mile" fiber-optic broadband network by the end of July and connect more than 1,200 municipal facilities in central and western Massachusetts. MBI is to be congratulated for successfully bringing in this important project essentially on time and on budget.
But the "last mile" connection to serve homes and businesses, not just municipal facilities, remains to be built. The article notes that 27 service providers have signed on as last mile providers on MBI’s network. One of them is WiredWest, a cooperative of 42 Western Massachusetts towns.
WiredWest is the only service provider committed to building a last mile fiber network to connect virtually all the homes and businesses in our member towns. The other 26 may provide partial or specialized services, not universal fiber broadband coverage.
In that article, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki rightly stresses the importance of broadband to economic growth. But the "new opportunities for small businesses" he foresees will not materialize in Western Massachusetts without connecting those businesses with fiber. He cites the Patrick-Murray administration’s "mission of empowering communities and regions to seek out new opportunities." Forty-two communities in our region have voted overwhelmingly at town meetings for WiredWest to build a fiber last mile. The administration should support this initiative.
In a related article in that same issue, Tyringham is said to feel the "power of wireless." This refers to what is known as "fixed" wireless, not the mobile wireless technology that connects your smartphone. Town residents are reported to be happy with their new service, certainly compared to what they had before, but the article incorrectly calls it "broadband." The speeds currently delivered by fixed wireless in Tyringham do not meet the minimum definition of broadband adopted by the Federal Communications Commission. Fixed wireless is a stopgap technology vastly inferior to a fiber network.
Not to extend fiber to everyone in our region will diminish the value of what MBI has accomplished. A fiber last mile network will serve for decades to foster economic development and improve the quality of our lives.
WiredWest is working to make it a reality for all.
The writer is Chair of the Board of Directors of WiredWest.