To the editor of THE EAGLE:
Telemedicine is an important emerging health care practice, enabling doctors and patients to communicate with one another by audio and video over the Internet. So it was good news to learn that Berkshire Medical Center has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the state attorney general's office for implementing a telepsychiatry program "to enhance treatment of patients in remote locations of the county" (Eagle, May 22).
Unfortunately, most people in those remote locations in Berkshire County and elsewhere in rural western Massachusetts currently lack the broadband connections they need to be able to take advantage of such a program, or for that matter to enjoy the many other benefits of having high-speed Internet service. To solve this problem, over 40 towns in the region have joined together as the WiredWest communications cooperative. It is dedicated on their behalf to "bringing broadband home" by building and operating a last-mile fiber optic network which will connect to the middle-mile fiber network recently completed by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to serve municipal and public facilities.
A bond bill currently pending in the state Legislature would provide $50 million for construction of the last mile. WiredWest is working with MBI and its member towns on funding mechanisms to raise an additional $50 million required to complete the project. As a cooperative, WiredWest will deliver broadband to the people in its member towns at a reasonable cost for service, including a low-cost option for needy families.
WiredWest strongly encourages BMC and Attorney General Martha Coakley, a candidate for governor, to support deploying the last-mile fiber network so that the telepsychiatry program and other telehealth services can serve all the residents of Berkshire County.
The writer is legal/governance chair of WiredWest.