×

Baker gets grilled about rural broadband

Area officials voice broadband woes in video interview

  • Gov. Charlie Baker appears via Skype video call at the 2016 Hampshire and Franklin Municipal Conference at Greenfield Community College, Saturday. Domenic Poli



For the Gazette
Monday, April 11, 2016

GREENFIELD — Town officials from Franklin and Hampshire counties grilled Gov. Charlie Baker about his administration’s actions on providing broadband access to unserved and underserved rural towns when he appeared at a local conference via Skype on Saturday.

Several people said having high-speed Internet is vital to the economic and educational well-being of their small towns and they wanted to know what was being done at the state level about it.

Billed as the conference’s keynote speaker, Baker appeared through the online video calling service from Nevada, an irony probably not lost on attendants at a conference for municipal officials hosted by Senate President Stan Rosenberg and the Hampshire and Franklin Regional councils of governments. It was unclear why the governor was in the Silver State.

Calvin Carr, who serves on the Heath Planning Board, said the Baker administration and the state Legislature need to act with more urgency to provide broadband service in the western towns.

“Our towns are dying,” he told the governor in front of the more than 100 people in attendance. “Populations are going down, school enrollment is going down, which means taxes go up and people can’t sell their houses.”

He said many young couples interested in moving to Heath change their minds when they find out about the lack of cell phone coverage and broadband.

“These towns really will wither on the vine, and that would be a shame,” Carr said.

Baker said he understands the frustration with the lack of broadband, and would be happy to meet with citizens at the Statehouse to help devise a solution.

The state’s Mass. Broadband Institute has been working in recent months to devise out how it will spend $50 million the state has set aside toward the so-called final mile of broadband service to rural towns, but many area towns, especially those in a collective called WiredWest, feel the MBI is dragging its feet and presuming too much control over the project for which towns are contributing two-thirds of the cost. A week ago many selectmen at a different gathering asked similarly pointed questions of the governor’s top economic development official.

On a different topic, Baker told the crowd his new proposed legislation regarding liquor licenses is “200 pages of weed-whacking,” meaning it would cut down on bureaucracy and give cities and towns more control. He said it would eliminate “regulations that have outlived their usefulness.”

The governor also said it is important to agree to disagree in order to resolve any issues the state faces.

Before the conference ended, Darlene Graham, of Plainfield, thanked the governor for his support of expanding addiction recovery and treatment programs.