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COG looks at area towns’ options

Recorder/Paul Franz
Linda Dunlavy, executive director of Franklin Regional Council of Governments, in the County Commissioners records room in the courthouse in Greenfield.

Recorder/Paul Franz Linda Dunlavy, executive director of Franklin Regional Council of Governments, in the County Commissioners records room in the courthouse in Greenfield.

As Western Massachusetts towns contemplate their next step to bring high-speed Internet to individual homes, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments sees its role as helping towns look at their options.

The COG has sought out service providers to answer questions about which service they’d be willing to offer, at what cost and where, so that towns can compare and see whether they can persuade providers to serve the entire town rather than simply the anchors.

If a town or school district is looking at upgrading its computer or phone network, for example, “I think all planning for upgrading IT must have this as its foundation,” Dunlavy believes. “That’s true of any municipality, school, or community anchor institution. Have to have understanding of what (123) does, or they’ll miss an opportunity to really improve what they have, and potentially even save money.”

The state and federally funded Mass Broadband Institute is bringing high-speed connections to public facilities like schools and town halls in underserved towns of Franklin County. How those institutions take advantage of that cable and how they extend it to homes and businesses is yet to be decided.

It may take additional funding, but the COG may also be able to play a role in getting technical help for towns to make those kinds of decisions, Dunlavy said.

“Understanding how to get from Point A to Point B is, I think, the next immediate challenge for our municipalities: deciding what kind of voice and data services to get, knowing this is my future,” she says. “I think MBI didn’t understand just how archaic our (town hall) systems are. Most of our municipal staffs are working on old, individual PCs, with a gazillion versions of MS office, or maybe Word Perfect, or maybe Excel or Lotus, and not communicating with each other.”

The COG, which is also working with the Town of Greenfield to develop a major interconnection center at the former Bendix property off the rotary, near the MassBroadband Point of Interconnection, sees the new fiber-optic trunk as a potential economic development magnet for the region if it can be built soon.

“The town has done what it needs to clean up the site, and now we need to create whiz-bang marketing brochure to show what the opportunity is,” says Dunlavy, pointing out that broadband development taking place not just in Franklin County and Western Mass., but around the country could be “a real game changer.”

— RICHIE DAVIS

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‘Middle mile’ gets a boost

Friday, April 5, 2013

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Like the rural electrification and development of a telephone system in the last century, building a multi-million-dollar telecommunications system across the region is seen as key to economic development and bridging the “digital divide” that becomes more important to how we live and do business. This is the last article in a five-part series.) With the state’s “middle-mile” … 0

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