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Baker Visits Becket To Laud Municipal Broadband Network

A tall white man in a suit gesticulates at a lectern in front of a row of people in a parking lot
Josh Landes
/
WAMC

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker was in Becket Tuesday to celebrate the launch of a new municipal broadband service.

In May, Becket Broadband began connecting residents of the small Berkshire community to the internet through a fiber-optic network after years of delays.

“Although the process to start construction has been a long slog, we can see light at the end of the tunnel. One of the major contributing factors is the delay of getting the utility companies to complete the make-ready work for which they were paid handsome sums," said Robert Gross, manager of Becket's Municipal Light Plant. “You would think that while we're building the unit, the network, all of this make-ready work would have been completed. And I can tell you that is still an ongoing battle and effort. We're happy to see Sertax, our contractor, has trucks all over town and TriWire is connecting homes. I want to thank them for their cooperation and dealing with all the issues that come up during this construction period. Westfield Gas and Electric is our project manager, and without them, we would not be able to build the network.”

Gross praised the effort of the town’s broadband ad hoc group in shepherding the project to realization.

“Cathy DeFoe, Jeremy Dunn, Chuck Garman, Dave Labrecque, Dan Parnell, and Jeff Piemont," listed Gross. "I mentioned them in alphabetical order. But they all worked equally well, and their contributions could not have been more forthcoming. The group is currently working with Westfield to prioritize some of the work. As an example, we are identifying some of the underground connections that are scheduled to be done in the winter time. And the effort will be to have the underground work done before the ground freezes so that when we can do the connections, we can do the work even with snow on the ground.”

Around 60% of homes in the community of around 1,700 have signed up for the municipal broadband, which offers internet services in two $68 and $84 monthly packages.

Baker praised Becket’s work and tied its accomplishment to the efforts of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, which has worked to bring internet connectivity to every community in the state since 2008.

“At this point in time, every single one of the 53 communities that we started with on this Last Mile effort, either has service or is on a path forward to have service with a solution that everybody's agreed on, and 49 of them have residents who are now receiving broadband service,” said Baker.

Heather Anello, who owns marijuana dispensary Canna Corner and the Route 8 Pub, says broadband connectivity has already transformed life in Becket.

“We had very low bandwidth, we had three routers, we had to make very tough and difficult and costly decisions to provide competent wireless services, not only to our customers, but to think things as simple as credit card processing," said Anello. "In addition, we have a high-tech security system required by the Cannabis Control Commission, which took up 90% of the bandwidth. If you've ever been to my location, I'm sure you stood there and waited a minute while the internet came back on so we could process your credit card payment. I'm beyond ecstatic to report to you today that we have resolved all of those issues with the help of this administration and the utility companies.”

The network is being funded through a $3 million state grant and $3.8 million in borrowing on the part of Becket.

Efforts to connect the community will continue into 2022, and Becket Broadband is holding an information session at town hall and on Zoom on September 11th.

“If you don't already have fiber at your house, it is coming, it is worth the wait," said Anello.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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