Governor Deval Patrick announced on Wednesday a $10 million pledge towards a swifter solution to one of its major hurdles: delivering high-speed broadband connections to the homes of people in the state's 45 most unserved and underserved communities. Nineteen of those communities are located in Berkshire County.

Patrick told The Eagle that the private sector has been working towards the solution, but said, "it's not fast enough."

"High-speed broadband today is as essential [a part] of infrastructure as a safe road and a reliable bridge," he said. "It's an educational necessity, a medical necessity, a municipal necessity, a business necessity, a competitive necessity."

This fall, several Berkshire communities were connected to the so-called "middle-mile" section of the state-led MassBroadband 123 project, which is bringing high-speed Internet to rural Western Massachusetts towns. The middle mile phase includes connections for places like town halls, libraries, schools, hospitals and other similar institutions.

The $10 million, which the governor announced as part of his new fiscal 2014 capital plan, will be invested into the "last-mile" portion of the project, which expands the fiber optic network to individual homes and small businesses.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said, "I give credit to the governor who embraced this issue when it was brought up in 2008 and has made it a priority cause."

He said the House and the Senate are also committed to seeing the full expansion of high-speed broadband into all Massachusetts communities.

"But we still have a long way to go to really light up unserved and underserved communities," Pignatelli said. "The last mile is critical to getting service into the home."

The state will own the portion of the fiber optic network it invests in and will lease it to private providers.

"This is not about the state doing a favor or giving a grant to the private sector," Patrick said.

The Legislature is currently working to pass an information technology bond bill Patrick filed in the spring, which includes an investment of $40 million for last-mile broadband infrastructure.

WiredWest, an agency advocating for a regional community-owned, universal, fiber-to-the-home network, posted on its website, "While the bond funds are only part of what is required to implement the last mile, a project estimated at $100 million, they can be leveraged to acquire the balance of funding."

According to the governor's office, Massachusetts Broadband Institute at MassTech, the project's leading agency, has already started planning for the rollout of the last mile, working with their existing partners from the MassBroadband 123 project, including members of the legislature, middle mile network operator AXIA, and community partners such as WiredWest, to put together a collaborative approach that will achieve the project's regional goal.

Gov. Patrick acknowledged the complexity of developing and implementing the last mile rollout, and emphasized that successfully doing so will only come through collaboration between state agencies steering the project, private broadband fiber optics and service providers, and the 45 communities who will ultimately benefit from having such connections.

But the governor said creating connectivity "isn't just about somebody in a buck truck running wire from here to there."

The reason why the last mile is the most costly portion of the broadband initiative is because cables will literally have to be run over rivers, through woods, to get to the most remote locations where consumers live. Extra safety and security measures will have to be taken to protect the loss of connection in the event of something like a fallen tree or remote power failure. That will require extra labor, planning and installation of infrastructure.

"Opportunity is central to who we are as a commonwealth, and to expand opportunity to every corner of the state, we must choose to invest in this generation and the next," Patrick said. "Government cannot and should not do everything, but through both reform and investments in education, innovation and infrastructure, we are growing jobs and spurring economic growth throughout Massachusetts."

To read the fiscal 2014 capital plan, visit mass.gov/capital

Unserved towns

45 Western Massachusetts communities identified as being the most unserved terms of high-speed broadband access. (Berkshire County towns in bold):

Alford, Ashfield, Becket, Blandford, Charlemont, Chesterfield, Colrain, Cummington, Egremont, Goshen, Hancock, Hawley, Heath, Hinsdale, Florida, Lanesborough, Leverett, Leyden, Middlefield, Monterey, Montgomery, Monroe, Mount Washington, New Ashford, New Braintree, New Marlborough, New Salem, Otis, Peru, Petersham, Plainfield, Princeton, Rowe, Royalston, Sandisfield, Savoy, Shutesbury, Tolland, Tyringham, Warwick, Washington Wendell,
West Stockbridge,

Windsor, Worthington.

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