Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Tuesday cuts the ribbon on Forest Street.
The road was reconstructed through a $1 million MassWorks grant. Polito discusses broadband buildout in Tyringham. Anna Lucey of Charter Communications, at left, answsers questions. Also at the meeting were Selectmen James Consolati and Michale Curtin, and Carolyn Kirk deputy secretary of housing and economic development, and Rep. Pignatelli.Jen Salnetti, left, gives Polito freshly picked carrots from her Woven Roots Farm as Tyringham Town Administrator Molly Curtin-Schaefer looks on.Polito visits the freshly paved Forest Street. Rep. Smitty Pignatelli with Polito. Sen. Adam Hinds, Lee Selectmen Chairman David Consolati, Polito, Pignatelli, District 1 Highway Director Francisca Heming, Selectman Thomas Wickham and Administrative Officer Christopher J. Ketchen.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito shakes hands with Lee Selectmen Chairman David Consolati after he said he was a Republican.
LEE, Mass. — Lt.
Gov. Karyn Polito assured local officials here that she’s making sure small towns have access to funding for projects critical to their growth.
“Often I am the voice of the communities outside of Boston to make sure that the dollars get to other places in the commonwealth and to partner with others private and public to get things done,” the former Shrewsbury selectman and state representative said on Tuesday.
Polito was speaking at the completion of one of those projects — the million-dollar rehabilitation of Forest Street that was made possible by MassWorks funding specifically set aside for rural communities.
“In this case we were able to use 10 percent of the funds for rural communities, we have a specific carve out for investments in rural communities, that is populations under 7,000 people,” she said. “The roadway is important to this community.”
Forest Street is a connector between Route 20 in Lee and Tyringham, provides the only access to the state boat ramp on Goose Pond and is used by school buses and public safety vehicles. The project, done on time and under budget by local contractor LB Corp., was a complete reclamation with installation of culverts, drainage and guardrails.
“The last few years this was like the lunar landscape now it’s paved with gold,” joked state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox.
Pignatelli said this kind of infrastructure work is important for the economic development and growth of smaller towns.
State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, agreed, saying small towns need this support to ensure there’s not a growing gap between eastern and Western Massachusetts.
“There’s a difference between how you handle smaller towns and rural areas,” he said. “It’s important that we have more programs like this.”
Lee was one of four stops on the lieutenant governor’s visit to the Berkshires; she’d spent about an hour each in Washington, Becket and Tyringham to learn how state funding was being used to advance broadband infrastructure.
“When we came into office there were 53 communities that were not on a pathway to doing so,” Polito said. “We’re now at eight remaining and the three communities that we visited today are making great progress … soon we hope to see the construction broadband infrastructure in their communities.”
Tyringham, along with Egremont, Hancock, Peru and Princeton, are benefiting from a $4.4 million grant to Charter Communications, through the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative, to complete the “last mile” in internet connections. Charter will deliver access to Spectrum cable television, internet and voice services ranging upward from 60 megabits per second.
Washington received $490,000, Becket $2.1 million and New Ashford $280,000 in Last Mile grants toward municipal solutions to broadband connections.
In Tyringham, Charter Communications Director of Government Affairs Anna Lucey said the company is working with Verizon and Eversource in installing the connections, although the signoffs from those utilities may take some time.
“All the utility companies will be aware of the priority of these projects by the administration and the good partners at the state who will be working for you to push things along,” she said to the roundtable of local residents and officials including Pignatelli and Hinds. “Once those come back, we have a conservative estimate of a year to build the entire system.”
Customers can pick from different packages, starting from $29.99 for the first two years.
Jen Salinetti of Woven Roots Farm said she needed reliable internet service for her business, and the current satellite service she has isn’t enough.
There is no cost to the town for the buildout but Charter is only required to cover a minimum of 96 percent.
“In our public hearings, there was a strong sentiment that we should cover the whole town so we’re going to swing back to Charter after this and see what it would cost to pick up the rest,” Selectmen Chairman James Consolati said. “So there might be a cost to the town.”
Polito later described the access to broadband as “transformational in terms of having the ability to grow their economy, to connect more students — younger and older — to educational online learning and from a safety standpoint, from an aging standpoint, having that connectivity is so critically important.”
She said she Gov. Charlie Baker were impressed by the partnerships happening in the Berkshires, pointing to the towns of Lee and Lenox now sharing an administrative officer, Christopher J. Ketchen.
Lee Selectmen Chairman David Consolati said those partnerships also cross parties, as he and fellow Republican Polito shook hands across Democrat Pignatelli.
“He’s one of the biggest persons I call to have help,” he said of Pignatelli. “We work together.
That’s the way it should be. We’re all working for the same goal: to deal with our communities and to try to put the best foot forward and have things that we need done.”
Consolati said he’d pushed for more from Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and while he thought the Baker administration was doing better, he was going to push for more from them as well.
“Lieutenant governor, you came from the same place I did,” he said. “We shouldn’t be satisfied. We should always push for the next step. Unless we push for that next step, we’re failing.”
And if she was interested in another infrastructure project, he had a big one the town’s been pursuing for years: new sewer and water lines to the town’s three vacant mills.
“Give me a call,” Consolati said as Polito laughed. “We’ll work it out.”
Gov. Philip Scott addresses local officials, residents and 7th and 8th-graders from Readsboro School at the Bullock House on Friday. The governor and Al Scaia share a laugh during Scaia’s tour of the town’s historic highlights. Scaia points to the town’s state Rep. Laura Sibilia. Omar Smith of the Broadband and Cell Phone Committee. Robert Briggs of the Southern Vermont Broadband Collaborative. Sue Bailey, Selectmen Chairwoman Helyn Strom Henriksen and Nancy Bushika of Stamford bring greetings.
Gov. Scott said his administration was focusing like a laser on the state’s economy to attract workers and businesses.
READSBORO, Vt. — More than 150 homes in Readsboro and Wilmington will have access to broadband thanks to public/private partnerships and grants and the work of volunteers.
Readsboro officials also touted some of the efforts of the Hometown Redevelopment Committee in restoring some of the shine to what was once called the “jewel of Vermont.” Gov. Philip Scott on Friday was given a tour by local historian Al Scaia and greeted by committee Chairwoman Sue Bailey at the historic E.J. Bullock Building, which is undergoing renovation.
“This work demonstrates the value of working together finding common ground to a common goal,” Gov. Philip Scott said on Friday.
“I believe we can change the way we’re doing business, volunteers like these exist in so many of our towns throughout Vermont and are key to enhancing and growing the vitality of our rural areas,” he said. “The last mile in Vermont will require innovative public/private partnerships like these.”
Some 56 homes in Readsboro will be hooked up to digital subscriber lines (DSL) through Fairpoint Communications and another section of town will have its “last mile” covered wirelessly through a project with Stamford’s Southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative. More than a 100 homes and businesses will be connected in Wilmington.
“The main thing that seems to make it work is the local participation, getting people involved locally and working with the state agencies or the providers,” Omar Smith, a member of the Readsboro Broadband and Cell Phone Committee told the governor and other officials gathered in the Bullock Building. “That’s really the only way we can these kinds of projects off the ground.”
Vermont’s connectivity initiative passed in 2015 created the Division for Telecommunications and Connectivity under the Department of Public Services and awards grants through the Vermont Universal Service Fund. More than $550,000 in Connectivity Initiative funding was granted to target 466 underserved locations in a dozen towns including Readsboro. Fairpoint has received some $8.8 million federal Connect America Fund II grants, along with state and corporate grants to improve broadband service in the state. According to Fairpoint, it costs about $25,000 a mile to deliver internet service and another $50,000 to $75,000 in equipment.
“There are still a lot of areas in the town of Readsboro and other towns around that don’t have service and there’s not current project in there so this is just step one,” Smith said. “And we still have a lot of work to do.”
While Fairpoint is running lines to one side of Readsboro, SVBC is worked with Avangrid Renewables (Iberdrola) to site wireless transmitters on one of its meteorological towers and possibly a second one. In 2014, it had first entered into an agreement with Avangrid to locate communications equipment1 for public safety — Stamford Volunteer Fire Department for mutual aid and North Adams (Mass.) Ambulance Service, which covers both towns.
“We’re almost to satellite now but not quite,” joked Robert Briggs of the broadband collaborative. “Now North Adams Ambulance can be in your community and talk back to their dispatch center.
The communication has been paramount in improvements. … Avangrid has been a good neighbor.”
The height of the tower should allow coverage for a number of homes on the west side of the mountainous town with some small repeaters, he said. “We’re really excited about being able to work with you guys. Readsboro said ‘is there anything you can do to help?'”
Both town initiatives are fully volunteer efforts. The Stamford group came about in 2005, first using a wireless antenna from the school. Both its quality and capacity have grown in the interim.
“When we started the Connectivity Initiative two years ago, we didn’t even know they existed and we were shocked to find they were providing service,” Clay Purvis, director of telecommunications and connectivity, said. “Good wireless broadband service in Stamford on an entirely volunteer service.”
Purvis said it was important to get local input and data to bring back to providers to “really target a solution that’s going to the last-mile folks at the end of the dirt road.”
Readsboro’s group formed nearly two years ago to expedite issues surrounding coverage. They groups have worked together and with state and Fairpoint officials to identify underserved areas in the small town. Jeffrey Austin of Fairpoint said the last mile can be a real challenge and those local conversations are important.
“We partnered with the Department of Public Service several times, we’ve had 10 projects around the state that we’ve completed,” he said.
Nancy Bushika, town clerk in Stamford for 18 years, said the two top questions asked by people considering moving to Stamford was first about the school, and second was about internet access. That was nearly dozen years ago, she said.
Wilmington resident Dan Burgess said the lack of high-speed internet influenced his decision to locate his business in Utah.
But businessman Dan Burgess of Wilmington thought this was all “too little, too late.” He related his own problems trying to get a bonded line to his Vermont home and how he decided to locate a software company he bought to Utah, where he also lives, rather than Vermont because of the lack of economical high-speed service.
“This is the kind of business Vermont should be attracting but it can’t,” he said. “One of the reasons is because there’s no broadband.”
Scott said the ability to attract and retain workers in Vermont was critical to its growth. It’s losing six workers a day, with the number between the ages of 25 to 45 down 30,000 from a decade ago.
“You think about what they represent, that’s the workforce,” he said. They work, they buy homes and products, raise families, pay taxes. “We need more kids here, we need to keep them here.”
The state’s institutions of higher education graduate 10,000 students a year. Keeping at least some of them here means affordable housing, affordable lifestyles and jobs, Scott said, pointing to the state’s $35 million housing bonds approved in June.
“Wireless I think is the future that’s why I keep saying we can’t keep our eggs in one basket and continue down this path because I think something’s going to change,” he said. “We have a laser on trying to develop the economy here in Vermont and we welcome any ideas you have.”
By Larry Parnass
MOUNT WASHINGTON — More than 14 months ago, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute gave this town $230,000, making it only the second “fiber to the home” broadband project to win state backing.
Now, Berkshire County’s smallest community is a month from lighting up its new fiber-optic network and coming off the rolls of “unserved” towns. Fiber-optic cable now laces along utility poles. Special “ONT” boxes are being positioned inside homes to translate pulses of light into electric signals. Gail Garrett, Mount Washington’s town clerk and a member of its Select Board, said 98 connections are planned, a number that keeps climbing as the start date nears. The town has 146 premises that are candidates for broadband connections, including Town Hall and the highway department. “Everybody’s had it with their current connections,” Garrett said. That frustration was expressed earlier when 60 percent of residents opted in, committing themselves to three years of data and telephone service through the network and plunking down $300 deposits. The state followed up on its initial investment with another grant this spring of $222,000, reducing the eventual cost to local taxpayers. Earlier, residents agreed to take $250,000 from a stabilization fund and to borrow $450,000.
Jim Lovejoy, a Select Board member, told The Eagle earlier that the second grant could allow the town to reduce its borrowing costs. “It’s hard to argue with the support that we’ve received from the administration,” he said. Network builder
Mount Washington picked NextGen Telecom Services Group to build its network in January 2016, just after the MBI ended a planned association with the WiredWest cooperative to operate a large regional network. Gov. Charlie Baker then ordered a pause in the MBI’s work, a period that lifted in April 2016 with the rollout of a new approach to “last mile” broadband connections. A little more than a year later, the town is poised to provide customers with download speeds of 500 megabits per second, 20 times the federal definition of broadband connection speeds. The project was slowed by delays in “make ready” work on utility poles. By Oct.
16, all equipment is to be installed in a refurbished space in the back of town hall. The work was taken over by White Mountain Cable Construction, which will maintain the network for one year. After that, Garrett said the town will seek a new company to make repairs.
“We’re hoping to go live Oct.
19 or 20,” Garrett said. Though the service will cost $119.95 a month, plus tax, Garrett said that by eliminating regular phone service, she believes the package is competitive for subscribers. The speeds will exceed those now available in Mount Washington, Garrett said, including satellite internet and a wireless service. Crocker Communications will serve as the network operator and internet service provider, or ISP. Garrett said the company is in the process of transferring Verizon landline phone numbers over to eventual voice-over-internet service. Garrett notes that one side benefit of the network is a lift in real estate transactions.
Houses that hit the market have been selling, she said.
“We’ve had great interest because of broadband,” Garrett said.
Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.