A years-long effort to bring broadband to Becket is finally seeing light at the end of the fiber-optic tunnel. Construction will begin soon on a network for a community that has waited too long to have their internet capability brought up to speed.
Next week’s celebratory kickoff of the buildout will be just the beginning of an 18-month project, but this concrete step toward connection comes almost four years after the state initially committed funding for the endeavor, with plenty of plenty of local legwork, volunteer labor and unforeseen delays along the way. While the project won’t be completed until 2022, Becket Municipal Light Plant Manager Robert D. Gross told The Eagle that “we’re hoping that the first homes will be connected in the early spring (of 2021).” Those who would like to follow the progress can do so at becketbroadband.org.
This represents a great leap forward for Becket residents, many of whom have been increasingly anxious to enter the modern era of internet connectivity amid prolonged preliminary work. Many wrote letters to The Eagle over the past year expressing their frustration over the delays — “We first sent in $50 to WiredWest nearly five years ago,” read one letter — especially considering the isolating conditions brought on by the coronavirus.
One letter-writer said her adult grandson came to stay with her this summer amid the pandemic, but because her home network was insufficient for him to properly continue his grant-funded work, he had to leave shortly. Another expressed concern for depressed property values and in turn a lower tax base because of the increased difficulty in selling or renting homes with outdated internet connection. Yet another worried about the prospect of those who have to work or, in the case of kids, study from home – an inconvenience for some made far more difficult in places like Becket without the benefit of broadband.
Suffice to say that, for these underserved communities, connection is vital – just ask those who have had to go without, as delays piled up and COVID-19 further prioritized reliable connection in an increasingly digital world. It’s good to see state funds invested in targeting the needs of these underserved locales — often rural Western Massachusetts municipalities that sometimes feel overlooked by Beacon Hill. Like other municipally owned networks in the region, Becket’s broadband project was bolstered by a few million dollars in state grants from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute.
For other communities looking to make similar moves with municipally owned networks, the lesson to be learned from Becket (as well as Washington, which had similar delays) appears to be to not underestimate the amount of make-ready work local utility poles can require in locations that are new to fiber-optic broadband infrastructure. That process took longer than anticipated, which led to a significant delay in what should have been the home stretch that consternated residents who were ready and willing to get connected.
After work gets underway next week, the tested patience of this underserved towns’ residents will soon pay off the dividend of reliable, high-speed internet, a major boon for preserving the vitality of Berkshire County’s small towns. That’s one small step for broadband, and one giant leap for Becket.