County Legislators Discuss Expanding Internet Access – Cortland Voice
The road to bridge the rural-urban digital divide in Cortland County is approximately 391 miles long.
The county currently has 265.3 miles of roads without access to broadband internet service, according to a report commissioned last summer by the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board (RPDB) and compiled by the Rochester-based telecommunications company ECC Technologies.
The study assessed the state of high-speed Internet in the region, which encompasses Cortland County and five other counties. ECC Technologies previously led an inventory project of central New York’s broadband infrastructure, which is also reflected in the RPDB report. These 265.3 miles, which could cost around $55,000 per mile and would add up to almost $15 million, include 1,509 addresses that do not receive access to an Internet connection with a minimum of 25 Mbps download. and 3 Mbps download.
County lawmakers discussed the way forward at a recent agriculture, planning and environment committee meeting.
“The towns of Homer and Truxton both have over 30 miles of unserviced roads in their town,” Legislative Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-LD-2) said at the meeting. “There are four other towns in Cortland that are 20 to 30 miles away where there is no infrastructure. It is something that extends to the whole department. »
Harbin noted that there are 126 miles of the road overlapping the 265.3 miles without service that could use a looped fiber optic cable to cover more ground in this unserved area. This would bring the total number of fiber optic cable kilometers to 391, which could cost nearly $22 million. The 126 miles of overlap would also allow redundancy for a safer and wider connection area, Harbin said.
“ECC Technologies has documented three phases of how to do this,” he said. “Understanding the infrastructure needs is the first step and we are ahead of that with the RPDB report. Phase two eliminates gaps in service, and phase three builds that middle mile fiber loop to connect all the other areas (that’s the extra 126 miles).
Harbin said the county should also determine if there are any specific login areas they need to address first. He used the example of an area in Truxton near the Labrador Mountain ski resort where there are “significant concentrations of residents” with no connectivity.
Applications of reliable internet access include telecommuting, e-commerce and virtual education, Harbin said.
Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District manager Amanda Barber said it could also help local agriculture.
“There is no shortage of technologies that we could use on our dairy farms,” she said. “Trying to bring technological innovation becomes a real challenge in places without high-speed Internet access. It’s essential, and I think our rural businesses are as important as our rural residents.
The county could seek a private partnership where it would foot the bill for part of the investment to install fiber optic infrastructure. The company, in this case, would own part of the infrastructure and enter into a contract with the county to manage the services. The other option would be for the county to fully own the fiber optic network and seek a contractor to help it operate as an internet service provider.
“Right off the bat, I don’t want to be part of the county by becoming a broadband company,” said lawmaker Paul Heider (R-LD-16). “I wouldn’t support any of that.”
Harbin and County Administrator Rob Corpora agreed with Heider.
“We don’t want to get calls from residents saying ‘my internet is down,'” Harbin said. “We want a company to own it. What we will probably end up doing is following the lead of other counties that have gone into partnership. We help fund infrastructure because we want it to happen and not otherwise happen, but we don’t want to be responsible for it. We just want to shake things up. »
Harbin said the county could use a variety of funding sources to pay for the project, including federal funding from the U.S. bailout, as well as bonds for the project with residents, federal and state grants.