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Berkshire Regional Planning Commission: Region faces third-world connectivity, economic stagnation without ‘grand scale’ fiber investment

In a 7-page letter written last month to Gov. Charlie Baker and copied to numerous state officials, Nat Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, spelled out how fiddling with inferior cable and wireless services will spell disaster for western Massachusetts and the Commonwealth.

Pittsfield — Without fiber optic networks, very high speeds, state regulation of the telecommunications industry and a swift, large-scale investment in a broadband infrastructure, Berkshire County and the entire state will face significant economic and other risks.

In a 7-page letter written last month to Gov. Charlie Baker and copied to numerous state officials, Nat Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, spelled out how fiddling with inferior cable and wireless services will spell disaster for western Massachusetts and the Commonwealth.

In a letter to Gov. Baker last month, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission’s Nat Karns wrote that the entire state requires a 'future-proof' broadband investment for which fiber optics is the only solution. Photo: Heather Bellow
In a letter to Gov. Baker last month, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission’s Nat Karns wrote that the entire state requires a ‘future-proof’ broadband investment for which fiber optics is the only solution. Photo: Heather Bellow

“The task is like rural electrification in the 1930’s,” Karns wrote, noting also that the regulation of telephone companies once upon a time led to “ubiquitous telephone service.”

“The region has struggled economically for forty-five years, and is increasingly reliant on entrepreneurs and sole-proprietors who are often home-based and can be located anywhere.”

Karns applauded the administration’s new push to help the 44 towns that are lagging with bad service or none at all but expressed “concerns” about ways of delivering broadband that may not be “future proof.”

He said the state should “vigorously” pursue a number of standards including “a near-term standard that 100 Megabits per second, symmetrical broadband speeds are the minimum acceptable, statewide.”

He also noted a potentially “ironic outcome” from the state’s efforts to get broadband to unserved towns, leaving “the economic hearts of the region, such as Pittsfield, North Adams, and Great Barrington…left behind, being served only with older cable TV-based systems.”

Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, seated, at a community compact signing in Great Barrington in 2015. Critics of his administration’s broadband strategy for Western Massachusetts say he is sidling up with giant telecommunications companies at the expense of a system that will deliver high speeds at a reasonable price to customers. Photo: Heather Bellow
Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, seated, at a community compact signing in Great Barrington in 2015. Critics of his administration’s broadband strategy for Western Massachusetts say he is sidling up with giant telecommunications companies at the expense of a system that will deliver high speeds at a reasonable price to customers. Photo: Heather Bellow

He further said, “fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) is the best long-term answer to broadband needs in the Berkshires and across the Commonwealth,” and that it has “virtually unlimited capacity.” But he is concerned that major providers like Comcast, Verizon or Charter will likely not provide FTTH “purely as a matter of private sector return on investment decisions under the current regulatory environment.”

Two weeks ago this article blasted the Baker administration’s apparent support of handing over rural broadband needs to big telecom companies.

Karns says serious money should be spent by the state to get this job done and done right.

“This investment is one that has to be made, on a grand scale, or we are at significant risk of having a telecommunications system that is inferior to those already operating in some third world countries.”

The letter from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission follows:

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