10 Franklin County towns benefiting from hotspot program extension

  • Educator Robbie Murphy, of Colrain, makes a video conference call with colleagues using the Wi-Fi hotspot at the Griswold Memorial Library in Colrain. Staff File Photo

  • The Hawley Highway Department on Route 8A is a Wi-Fi hotspot for residents. The hotspot program was originally slated to end Sept. 1, but has been extended through the end of the year. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/28/2020 1:06:59 PM

Ten Franklin County towns are among the 26 across the state benefiting from the free wireless hotspot program the Baker-Polito Administration is extending to continue delivering public high-speed internet connections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program for residents in unserved Massachusetts towns was originally slated to end Sept. 1, but will be stretched through the end of the year. Ashfield, Charlemont, Colrain, Hawley, Heath, Leyden, Monroe, New Salem, Warwick and Wendell are among the towns to get hotspots, along with Petersham in Worcester County.

A list of service providers and the specific hotspot addresses is available on the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s website at bit.ly/3gtyBld.

The program was originally announced in April by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute at the MassTech Collaborative (MBI) and KCST USA, the operator of the state-owned MassBroadband 123 fiber-optic network, according to an MBI press release. The hotspot sites were connected with the support of regional internet service providers such as AccessPlus, Crocker Communications and Westfield Gas + Electric.

Trevor Mackie, a Charlemont Broadband Committee member, said the town appreciates the hotspot at Hawlemont Regional Elementary School at 10 School St.

“I know it has provided a means for people to be able to log on to a fast internet connection,” he said, adding that there is an inconvenient aspect in that people who use the network must remain in their vehicles. “That is a hindrance, but it is better than nothing.”

The hotspot is next to a pair of tennis courts, and parking spaces are limited, Mackie added.

“It is a benefit and we do appreciate it,” he said simply. “We know people have been using it.”

Mackie said his committee is working on getting a second hotspot, and its members would like the location of the existing one to be moved.

MaryEllen Kennedy, co-chair of the New Salem Broadband Committee, said some residents have gotten use out of the hotspot outside Swift River School at 201 Wendell Road, though the town has been hard at work with home installation of broadband.

“We were building a fiber network and had started home installations when the shutdown came,” she explained. “We were on hiatus for a month or so.”

She said the town has conducted 347 installations, with 60 remaining.

Still, Kennedy said it has been helpful to have the hotspot, and New Salem is grateful for it.

Progress continues on efforts to extend high-speed connectivity in the state’s unserved communities. According to the release, of the 53 communities in the Massachusetts Last Mile Infrastructure Grant program, 21 now have completed projects, delivering broadband access to an estimated 18,000 residents. Projects are nearing completion in another 11 communities, with service rolling out to residents and businesses by the end of 2020.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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