LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — High-definition cable access will be in most of Lanesborough on Aug. 2 and, a week later, high-speed internet.
As part of the merger with Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications is upgrading the systems in three Berkshire towns — Lanesborough, West Stockbridge and Hinsdale. For weeks workers have been in various parts of the town replacing wiring and bringing the new digital signal to the majority of the homes.
Tom Cohan, a government representative for Charter, told the Board of Selectmen that on Aug. 2 the new system will be turned on — requiring residents to switch cable boxes for that date — and a week later on Aug. 9, 60 to 100 megabit packages will be available for broadband access.
The system matches what the company offers in other Massachusetts towns — a federal requirement put in place in conjunction with the merger.
"Because we are upgrading everything, the boxes our customers have today need to be swapped out," Cohan said.
Those with the Charter cable boxes now will need to get a new box, which will be active on the 2nd. Cohan said the easiest way is to call the company and have the boxes with detailed installation instructions mailed. He said the company will install and deliver the boxes as well, but that option requires a fee.
What most people are waiting for, Cohan said, is broadband. That will go live on Aug. 9 and the standard package will be for 60 megabit speed. Customers can upgrade to 100 megabits. Further, Cohan said the company would be able to run fiber directly to businesses as part of the commercial offerings.
Internet has long been seen as a boost to economic and property value growth. The lack of internet access has been cited as a reason for dropping the price on a home and businesses often need access in order to operate in a given area. However, parts of Massachusetts has been lagging behind.
The Massachusetts Broadband Institute for years has been trying to make use of federal and state funding eyed to bring broadband to every corner of the state but has hit stumbling blocks in connecting what is known as the "last mile."
The middle mile has been built out and connects schools and municipal buildings to fiber internet and a "lighting up" ceremony in Otis a number of years ago highlighted the efforts. But, from there the laterals out to the residential and rural areas has hit a number of snags.
Gov. Charlie Baker put a halt to the program earlier this year to review its operations and made a number of changes to the program to help finalize the expansion.
Cohan said right now 90 percent of Lanesborough's homes are connected to the system. He said there is a "tentative agreement" with MBI to build out the remaining 10 percent.
"We have a tentative agreement with MBI," Cohan said. "They will help us fund the build-out of areas we do not serve now. That would be in 2017."
Lanesborough had been part of the WiredWest collaborative's effort to build a system for multiple towns. The collaborative of towns would operate the system.
But, with Charter's expansion that may end Lanesborough's involvement. Town Manager Paul Sieloff has been keeping an eye on the merger of Time Warner and Charter for precisely that reason.
"The key thing is Charter is very serious and installing fiber all across town," Sieloff said at a meeting earlier this month.
Sieloff has even ushered Charter through the permitting process. The Board of Selectmen fast-tracked permits earlier this month to dig into the roads on Victoria Lane and North Main Street.
"We waited 30 years so if it takes another 30 days, or three months, it is happening," Sieloff said at the time.
Cohan said the expansion isn't without its hitches. The merger comes with more than just upgrading three towns' services, which can cause some confusion with call centers and the new boxes. But, he urged residents to be patient.
In the three Berkshire County towns there are just 800 customers — a number Cohan hopes will grow — but the merger brings the total number of customers to over 10 million, he said. Further, Time Warner had call centers based out of the country and Charter is in the process of bringing those back to the United States at the same time.
"We are bringing their call centers back to the United States as well," Cohan said.
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