For state Rep. Mark, patience will be reward for removal of broadband, cell service 'obstacles'

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BOSTON — At home, Paul Mark doesn't start his day by scrolling through Twitter. The former lineman for a phone company turned state representative doesn't even get phone service until about a 30-minute trek away from his house.

In large parts of Western Massachusetts, people go without broadband and reliable cell service, although Massachusetts is on the cusp of fixing the issue.

Mark lives in Peru, which was awarded a grant for Charter Communications to wire the town for high-speed internet, which, he said, should solve the issue for his town in the next six months.

"It's an obstacle to economic opportunity, it's an obstacle to educational opportunity, it's an obstacle to a lot of things that are going to happen in the future," he said. "We're talking about improved medical service remotely. You don't have the same access to Skype or video service, you don't have the same opportunities to stay in touch with people. It's definitely been a factor as to why growth in our area is slow or in decline even."

Although he has been working on the issue of broadband since he started working for Verizon in 2000, Mark is the only state legislator without broadband internet, cable television and cell service at his house.

For him, it's more than economic opportunities. He also said he misses out on "silly things," like the experience of watching sports and watching the shows everyone is watching and talking about. For example, he never has seen "Game of Thrones."

It does cut both ways, he said. Sometimes it can be nice to go home and not be interrupted. Other times, about 30 minutes away on the drive to work, he gets a bunch of voicemails. Sometimes those calls are ones he wishes he could have returned the night before.

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"Probably for me the most frustrating part is that we're on the phone a lot and I'm in the car a lot because of the job. There's dead areas that I drive through, so, I'll lose a lot of conversations, and I know it's frustrating for people that I talk to," he said.

"When we first started doing this, we would do office hours in the town of Charlemont, and at that time, they didn't have cellphone service."

"So, my district office would go dark for the day. That used to be frustrating, because people would call up and they wouldn't get someone answering the phone on Thursdays only."

Although many people in Berkshire County don't have broadband or cell service, the issue is one that will be fixed in the coming years.

"I think we have addressed that; we're on the last mile; I think going forward, that will be a nonissue," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox. "We've made some major investments in the last 10 years; over $100 million. Within five years, that will no longer be a conversation."

Mark agrees, but he also said Berkshire County can't be left behind once technology improves.

"In five years, every community will be wired. But then, I think it's also very likely that in 10 years, the next technology will be out there and we'll be fighting to get Western Mass. caught up once again," Mark said.

"As a person who used to work for a phone company, I was stationed in Woburn. In 2004, I was helping install the lines for Fios. That was 15 years ago. People here had a technology 15 years ago that we don't even have half of yet."


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