Want to pay $30 (or nothing) for high-speed internet? See if your Berkshire household qualifies | Local news







Becket Internet Servers (copy)

State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, Ashley Stolba, Undersecretary of Housing and Economic Development, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Government Charlie Baker are given a tour of the new Internet infrastructure in Becket by Whip City Fiber utility chief Jamie Cincotta. Broadband initiatives have been instrumental in connecting the rural Berkshires. Now, a federal plan will cut costs for eligible residents.




Most of Berkshire County is wired for high-speed internet, but not every household can afford it.

Now a $65 billion federal initiative that is part of President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill is designed to close that gap here and in the US with tax dollars and the help of major Internet service providers.

Residents can find out if they are eligible based on income or participation in various government assistance programs, or if they live on tribal lands.







Income Requirements for an Affordable Connectivity Program

The income levels shown can help you determine your eligibility for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program. Other ways to qualify are if you receive government support, such as Medicaid, or live on tribal lands.




As of May 1, 6,265 households in the Berkshires enrolled, according to federal data.

Below the Affordable connectivity program, eligible households pay no more than $30 per month for high-speed internet, as long as the program’s resources are available.







UTILITY POLES

Utility poles along Tyler Street in Pittsfield.




The top 20 internet service providers have agreed to either lower prices or increase internet speeds for the best use of taxpayer money going into the program, according to a fact sheet of the White House. Those companies have promised to offer fast plans for $30 or less.

Coupled with the program benefit, some households were able to get free service.

Other providers serving the Berkshires, including Hughes Network Systems LLC and EARTHLINK, LLC, are also participating in the program. A search function linked the White House website can help people find these 1,300 providers who are discounting the program.

The White House website also has more information and links for residents to find out about eligibility and how to apply.

Websites from major providers such as Spectrum also provide links to the application and explain how the program works. Spectrum’s site says new households that apply can “get 100 Mbps download speeds for just $29.99 a month, which includes a modem, in-home Wi-Fi, and self-installation at no extra cost.”

Spectrum also says that “qualified households will receive up to $30 monthly credit for Internet service — meaning eligible customers can get Spectrum Internet 100 with no monthly fee.”

The program also offers a discount on a computer or tablet at some companies.

Broadband connectivity has: been a sore place for a long time in the Berkshires, but that has largely changed in recent years with a lot of pressure from the county’s more rural towns, as well as the state. some cities are now connected.

The Massachusetts Broadband Institute and the state are still working to get infrastructure in the remaining areas that don’t have the building blocks, said Brian Noyes, director of communications and marketing for the state’s MassTech Collaborative.

High-speed internet is available to about 94 percent of Berkshire County households, according to Federal Trade Commission data.

Not all households are subscribed to an Internet service provider. Only 70.5 percent of households subscribe to some type of Internet service, including DSL, according to Census data cracked by Microsoft in 2020. Microsoft’s own data showed that 73.3 percent use the Internet at broadband speeds.

But based on Microsoft data, USA Today reported last year that only 39 percent of Berkshire County households have broadband.

Regardless, the Biden administration and lawmakers are launching a campaign to get the country online. Massachusetts and some other states are planning to text millions of residents who qualify for subsidized internet.

The office of U.S. Representative Richard Neal, D-Springfield, will promote the program on social media and face-to-face visits, said Margaret Boyle, Neal’s director of communications.

Boyle said it’s the “more rural communities” in western and central Massachusetts that need attention because they tend to have wider digital divides.

For example, Sheffield council officials have said they: to realize that a number of residents do not have an internet subscription because they cannot afford it.

State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, says he doesn’t hear many voters complaining about not being able to afford internet, but he knows there are “neighborhoods” where people quietly go with no service.

“Broadband is expensive,” he said. “I know I cringe every time I get my bill.”

Pignatelli would like to take this federal plan a step further by letting companies, for example, give a price advantage to state-subsidized housing.

“In joint housing there should be a bulk discount [for internet],” he said. “You have one line coming in, you don’t have to send 50 different bills.”

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