Small business owners celebrated the expansion of broadband internet with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker in West Stockbridge Tuesday. Baker says the state’s $1.6 million investment in the Last Mile of broadband connectivity has brought a lot of Western Massachusetts into the 21st century.
As part of Small Business Month, Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito toured downtown West Stockbridge and spoke with small business owners who say they have benefited from broadband connectivity upgrades thanks to state dollars.
The tour was led by Joe Roy Jr., a member of the West Stockbridge Business Association and the owner of The Floor Store.
“So what kind of floor do you need, Governor?” Roy asks.
“A clean one,” Baker says.
The Shaker Mill Tavern Family Smoke House was one of the stops on Baker’s tour. Owners Jenni Roy Hallock and James Hallock say their business relies heavily on the internet.
“Before, the internet was not very stable, and our whole restaurant runs on internet. And by not having that it kept us behind,” James Hallock says.
“Not only has it sped up with the computer system, our system doesn't crash anymore, which is great. But we can now offer Wi-Fi so you know people can come in. They can stay in town and they can do their paperwork or run whatever business they are doing on the road right from the restaurant. It’s been great. We also live in West Stockbridge. We have five kids. And I’ll tell you it’s dropped our internet bill at home, too. We didn’t even have the ability to have internet as fast as we have. Now we do have it,” Jenni Hallock says.
West Stockbridge, Hinsdale and Lanesborough did not have any broadband services until last year when Charter Communications – funded by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s $1.6 million Last Mile Infrastructure Grant – made the investment that brought high-speed internet to underserved communities.
It expanded Charter’s TV-only cable network to all-digital to roughly 440 customers.
Since then in West Stockbridge, 750 homes and companies have been connected, and business is booming.
“Our goal at this point is to get everyone wired,” Baker says.
Last year, the Baker administration and new MBI leadership announced plans to accelerate the Last Mile broadband project. His administration has helped connect 41 towns with partnerships from private providers like Charter Communications, often using state funds.
The Republican says connecting Berkshire businesses to high-speed internet gives them "sort-of capacity to play in a 21st century world. This was a really important element that just had to get done.”
Democratic State Senator Adam Hinds agrees with Baker that internet access is vital for business development and economic growth, “for our kids and schooling, for attracting and keeping population” – but he says it’s about time the community gets connected.
“It's a matter of life and death for many businesses and so it’s really unacceptable that it has taken this long and having the governor here is a way to make sure we’re celebrating the successes when we get them and that we keep our shoulder into it and get it to the finish line.”
The problem is getting the 5,000 Last Mile households and businesses that are still underserved connected.
“The reason I can't give you a hard and fast timeline is because we don't, we don't own all of the decision making here,” Baker says. “A lot of the decision making has to be made by communities and by stakeholders. And it’s a partnership; it’s not a, not a forced march. But we are going to be really aggressive about getting this done as soon as we can.”
Carolyn Kirk, Deputy Secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, says it’ll be some time before every community is connected.
“It'll be 18 to 24 months. We will have rolling neighborhoods and towns being lit up. So probably our next light-up, we understand, is either going to be Otis or Mount Washington in August or September, and then really it will happen every couple of months from there.”
Earlier this month, Baker announced an additional $4.6 million in grants to support municipal broadband projects across Western Massachusetts.