Our Opinion: Berkshire isolation far from splendid

Isolation need not be the price we pay for living on the rural side of the state. And yet when it comes to telecommunication services and transportation we continue to be set apart from the rest — and not in a good way. The Berkshires' delegation on Beacon Hill is aware of this and is making telecommunications and public transportation its top priority ("Berkshires' isolation: Not just geography," Eagle, October 24).

As Representative Paul Mark, D-Peru, notes, when he returns to his town he returns to a place that has "no high-speed internet, no cable television and my cellphone doesn't work there." He represents 16 towns, and "in 10 of them that's the case." Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, who represents 17 towns in Berkshire County, adds, "From the economic development and educational standpoint, they are in serious disconnect."

There have been major strides made this past year to bridge the digital divide by bringing broadband to rural communities, including most recently an agreement by the quasi-public Massachusetts Broadband Institute to pay $4.77 million to Frontier Communications to bring high-speed internet to the towns of New Marlborough, Sandisfield and Tolland. After a couple of years of stagnation, the MBI and rural communities are making tangible progress and small Berkshire towns have reason to hope they will not be left out of the broadband loop for long.

An equally frustrating and more formidable problem remains transportation, including bus service in the county and train service to and from Boston and New York City. As Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, put it, lack of sufficient public transportation remains a barrier to the Berkshires' economic growth. "We spend millions and billions of dollars on the `T' every year, but we can't get a bus past 6 o'clock at night in the Berkshires." The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority does a good job for the funding it has to work with, but the gaping maw of Boston's long-standing disaster, the MTBA, consumes more than its share.

Major gaps in the BRTA's hours of operation leave car-less commuters scrambling for alternatives, particularly those who work evening shifts or Sundays. There are also major gaps in geographical coverage, leaving the hilltowns all but shut out. This limits job opportunities for many and stunts economic growth.

As for train service, we've got a long way to go to build the "iron triangle" connecting Boston to Pittsfield to New York City with reliable rail service. State Senator Adam G. Hinds, D-Pittsfield, has formed a working group to study the quickest and cheapest way to have rail service between Pittsfield and New York City and whatever the recommendations that are made, action in Boston must follow. This can't become another report that collects dust on a shelf.

We applaud the efforts of our Berkshire delegation in its pursuit of state financial support to keep us connected. We're making headway, particularly on broadband, but so much more must be done.


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