Wireless internet system to go live this year in Savoy, Florida

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People in four of the most rural towns in Western Massachusetts will soon be able to say this: The digital divide disappeared in 2019.

After years of seeking a path to high-speed internet service, the Berkshire County towns of Florida and Savoy will gain broadband access this year through a wireless network made possible through a state investment.

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute announced Wednesday it reached a deal that will allow a tech company to provide service in those towns — as well as two others in Franklin County, Hawley and Monroe.

Through an effort led by Hawley, the towns agreed to pool grants from MBI worth $2,315,461 and to work with WiValley-MA Inc., a branch of a New Hampshire company, to obtain service.

It is the only wireless network to be part of the state's Last Mile program in Berkshire County. Other wireless projects backed by the state are in Warwick and Royalston.

The grants and project bring the original list of 53 unserved or partially served towns as of the start of 2017 down to three, according to MBI.

As The Eagle reported in February, officials in Savoy were eager to receive a first tower to be placed for the system.

Work to build the network will take 34 weeks and roll out in four phases, with subscribers signing up as equipment is placed. Some customers will be able to connect within six weeks, MBI said. Prospective customers will be solicited for business by OTELCO, a company working with WiValley-MA.

To the south of Savoy, Windsor is in the process of building out a municipally owned fiber-optic network.

But towns that opted into the wireless solution preferred not to incur that level of costs to local taxpayers. The only local cost of the wireless network, after the state's investment, will be the fees subscribers pay to WiValley-MA, through OTELCO, which will act as the internet service provider handling billing and customer service.

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Along with access to the internet, customers will be able to obtain telephone service.

The network is expected to reach 1,000 households when completed. It will connect through the state's MassBroadband 123 system, known as the "middle mile."

While the network will reach 96 percent of premises in the four towns, as the state's rules require, some customers will not be able to obtain download speeds that the FCC defines as "high speed."

Three-quarters of the network's customers will see download speeds of 25 megabits per second, the federal standard. But because of limits inherent in current wireless technology and topography in a mountainous region, some customers will be provided with speeds of 12 Mbps for uploads and 2 Mbps for downloads.

In statements released through the MBI, local lawmakers hailed the step to construct the wireless network.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said he hopes the network brings service that residents of the towns "have long desired."

State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, who represents Florida, said he has confidence WiValley "will complete their work quickly and to everyone's satisfaction."

And state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, who represents the other towns involved, praised the municipal collaboration that made the venture possible.

"The lack of access to high-speed internet service has held us back in many ways, including economically, so any step taken to help bridge this divide is a step in the right direction," he said.

To date, the state has awarded nearly $34 million to close the digital divide in Western Massachusetts.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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