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Polito visits Hilltowns for update on broadband push

  • Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, left, discusses the state’s broadband with other state and local officials from Franklin County towns Tuesday at the Town Hall in Shutesbury. RECORDER STAFF/Paul FranZ

  • Massachusetts Lieutenant Govenor Karyn Polito visited Shuteesbury Town Hall to meet with state and local officials to discuss broadband. June 267 2017. Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Massachusetts Lieutenant Govenor Karyn Polito visited Shuteesbury Town Hall to meet with state and local officials to discuss broadband. June 267 2017. Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Massachusetts Lieutenant Govenor Karyn Polito visited Shuteesbury Town Hall to meet with state and local officials to discuss broadband. June 267 2017. Paul Franz—Paul Franz



For the Gazette
Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SHUTESBURY — The drawn-out broadband saga experienced by many small towns continued Tuesday with a roundtable discussion among state lawmakers and local civic leaders, who expressed tentative excitement about progress toward connectivity.

“What we have found is leverage — the pressure that Carolyn (Kirk, deputy secretary of the Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development) has — is a lot more effective when the state is speaking for us than when Bob is speaking for Leyden,” said Robert Ryan, of Leyden’s Broadband Committee, speaking to Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and peers from Shutesbury, Colrain, New Salem, and Wendell.

Also in attendance were Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, Kirk and Peter J. Larkin, chairman of the quasi-public Massachusetts Broadband Institute, created in 2008 under Gov. Deval Patrick to bring broadband to underserved towns.

“I’ve heard the stories. Whether it’s the difference of working from home or not, or just from a public safety standpoint, this has to get done,” Polito said.

“It has been a hard struggle,” Kulik noted, “It’s a partnership, and towns have been frustrated for a long time.”

Polito’s visit comes on the heels of more than $15 million in state broadband grants announced this year — the latest financial infusion in a years-long drama to bring high-speed internet into the region. Looking ahead, “We will have every community on a pathway to connection by the end of the year,” Polito said.

As previously announced, under the grant contract, the state will pay for a third of qualifying and participating towns’ broadband connection costs, with the rest coming from taxpayers. In Hampshire County, those towns are Cummington (awarded $840,000) and Plainfield ($650,000), as well as the $890,000 award announced this week for Chesterfield.

In Franklin and Berkshire counties, Shutesbury has received $870,000, while the remainder has been divided among 14 communities.

The contract outlines that at least 96 percent of the residences in those towns be connected to broadband when all is said and done. However, because two-thirds of the work is paid for by local taxpayers, Ryan said “we’re hoping to wire all of the houses. If the town is going to be paying from its tax base, we feel compelled to bring in broadband to all of the community.”

In Shutesbury’s case, Broadband Committee member Gayle Huntress estimated it will cost about $2.5 million to build out the town’s network. To that end, Huntress said town officials intend to hire Westfield Gas & Electric, owned and run by the town of Westfield, to plan and begin the build-out process. She said work is expected to be completed by 2019.

Over the years, the region’s lack of broadband infrastructure has forced residents to purchase expensive and spotty satellite internet service or physically transport their computers to places that are connected.

“People drag home computers in here to get an update,” said Shutesbury Broadband Committee member Steven Schmidt, standing in the town hall after the discussion. He described the years-long process as “very frustrating.”

“Initial efforts began in the early 2000s, but it really took off a few years ago,” said Craig Martin, another Shutesbury committee member. “Looking to the future, we’re thrilled that things are moving. There are a lot of entrepreneurs out here, and that will increase.”

Later Tuesday afternoon, Polito and Kulik held roundtables about broadband in Rowe and Ashfield, speaking to leaders from Charlemont, Heath, Rowe, Ashfield, Cummington, Plainfield, Windsor, and Chesterfield.