Panel to launch fiber-optic pitch

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Monday, October 13
MOUNT WASHINGTON — Is a "future-proof" broadband service in the works for South Berkshire County? Will the modern fiber-optic network in parts of eastern Massachusetts ever make it to the rural corners of the state?

South County's high-speed Internet service will be the topic of a meeting hosted on Wednesday by the Southern Berkshire Technology Committee.

According to Charles Flynn, chairman of the SBTC, the future of the state's telecommunications industry belongs to fiber-optics, where information is transmitted through light, rather than electricity.

Fiber-optic technology might be faster and clearer than its electrical counterparts, but when it comes to bringing the technology west, Flynn thinks the state's major telecommunications provider is dragging its heels.

In August, as part of its $200 million expansion project, Verizon announced that high-speed DSL service was now available in 24 of Berkshire's 32 underserved towns.

Flynn had tart words for the news.

DSL, or a digital subscriber line, "is a dirty word," Flynn said recently. "It's old technology."

He added that DSL, which provides digital service through copper wire and requires that the customer be within three miles of a "switching station" in order to get coverage, will be "totally obsolete" in five years.

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Flynn noted that eastern parts of the state have access to a Verizon service known as FIOS, a fiber optic technology that provides download speeds of about 10 megabits per second.

Compared to the three megabits offered by Verizon's cable network in Pittsfield, or the 1.5 megabits that Flynn says he gets from his WiSpring wireless service at home in Egremont, the flow of information allowed by FIOS is like "a six-inch pipe compared to a garden hose."

FIOS is currently available in 80 of the 351 cities and towns in the state, and the service area is relegated to the corridor of Routes 495 and 128 in eastern and central Massachusetts, said Phil Santoro, a spokesman for Verizon.

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Some of the state's most metropolitan areas, like Boston, don't have access to FIOS yet, Santoro added, noting that the playing field between the state capital and Berkshire's hinterland towns might be more level than critics think.

"Boston has the same DSL service as Florida, (Mass.)," Santoro said.

Verizon has been introducing FIOS service to blocks of communities in the state for the past three years; 30 more places will get the service in 2009, Santoro said, adding that the company hasn't specified what cities and towns will get the service.

Flynn, who is the technology director of Lee Public Schools, lobbied hard to have FIOS installed in Lee, but his request fell on deaf ears at Verizon, he said.

"(Without FIOS in the county) We're all underserved," he said.

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Over the course of the next few months, the SBTC will host other broadband meetings in South County's rural communities, Flynn said.

Meeting topics will include the construction of a state-of-the-art fiber optic "backbone," built on utility poles, that serves even the outer reaches of the county, Flynn said.

"The idea is to start the build-out in the fringes, in communities like Mount Washington and Alford, and work in toward the center," Flynn said, adding that most telecommunications infrastructures are built in the opposite way — from the urban center outward.

To reach Jessica Willis: jwillis@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 528-3660.

If you go ...
What: Southern Berkshire Technology Committee meeting

Where: Town Hall, 118 Main St., Mount Washington

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday


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