Even with a slew of projects advancing, high-speed internet has still not reached thousands of residents of rural towns, a gap more evident than ever as people work and study from home in the pandemic.

Though the state and its broadband partners can't hurry those projects up, they've come up with a patch.

Fourteen new Wi-Fi hotspots will be created as an interim step until Sept. 1 by tapping into the state-owned MassBroadband 123 fiber-optic network.

New Wi-Fi zones are already up and running in Egremont, Hawley, Monterey and New Marlborough.

Others are planned for the Berkshire County towns of Becket, Washington and Windsor.

In remarks Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said that people working and studying remotely, as well as those attempting to use "telehealth" services, need fast internet.

"But in areas of the commonwealth, that access to the internet is just not possible, and so there are gaps," she said.

The rollout of temporary Wi-Fi zones is, she said, "a temporary step to fill these gaps."

The project involves the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, the company KCST, which manages the "middle mile" network owned by the state, and internet service providers at the local level.

The service will be provided for free and runs at 250 megabits per second, more than eight times the federal definition of broadband speed.

Brian Noyes, a spokesman for MBI, said the service will be available around the clock. "But we defer to each community," he said.


Resorting to Wi-Fi zones as a stopgap measure will seem familiar to many without broadband.

Since the middle mile brought high-speed service to "community anchor institutions" like town halls and libraries in Western Massachusetts six years ago, parking lots outside those buildings have long drawn residents desperate for internet connections.

Polito cautioned that in light of the coronavirus, people will be asked to follow social distancing rules in the zones.

In this region, the public utility Westfield Gas & Electric will handle creation of the Wi-Fi zones, according to MBI.

A list of the hotspots active is available by visiting broadband.masstech.org/wifi.

The list will be updated as new locations are made available. Noyes said participating towns will also be informing residents about the service.

Polito said the zones will be launched on a "rolling basis."Lisa Stowe, a spokeswoman for Westfield Gas & Electric, said the utility is coordinating with towns about placement of the hotspots. All should be available by early May, she said. "They are being worked on as we speak," Stowe said.KCST, which manages the middle mile, is handling which fibers in the network can be made available for the wifi zones.The ones already active, and the internet service provider involved, can be found at the following locations:

- Egremont Town Hall, 171 Egremont Plain Road (Fiber Connect);

- Monterey Fire Station, 411 Main Road (Fiber Connect);

- New Marlborough Library, 1 Mill River-Great Barrington Road; New Marlborough Town Hall, 807 Mill River Southfield Road; New Marlborough Fire Station, 205 Norfolk Road (Crocker Communications).

High-speed service is also available at the Hawley Highway Department, 247 West Hawley Road, as provided by WiValley.

MBI says that its partner, KCST, has informed local internet service providers about the program. The institute says questions about access should be directed to KCST by email at sales@kcstusa.com or by phone at 413-223-6016.

To date, the state's push to close the digital divide has resulted in completed public or private projects in 17 of the 53 communities deemed to be underserved. That work, Polito said, has brought high speed internet to 16,000 people.

Networks are still being constructed in a dozen communities around the region, backed in part by over $41 million in grants from the state.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.