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Cable company merger will fill in many gaps for high-speed Internet in Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 December 2016 at 9:42 am
File photo by Tom Rivers: A road in rural Barre is pictured at sunset in this photo from May 21, 2015.

File photo by Tom Rivers: A road in rural Barre is pictured at sunset in this photo from May 21, 2015.

Orleans County has about 3,600 households without access to high-speed Internet, but that number would shrink to 77 as part of the Charter Communications and Time Warner merger.

Charter Communications has to make broadband Internet access available to an additional 145,000 homes and businesses in new York over four years as part of the merger.

Charter’s plan would nearly cover the remaining gaps in Orleans, leaving 77 households without access. Charter would also make significant improvements in Niagara County, reaching all but 943, with most of those gaps in rural eastern Niagara County.

Orleans and Niagara officials have been working together the past four years to bring more high-speed Internet to the two counties.

The state announced a $500 million broadband push last year, but Orleans and Niagara held off from applying because they wanted to see what Charter’s plans were for the two counties.

“It’s a great Christmas present,” said Lynne Johnson, an Orleans County legislator who has been working on the broadband initiative with David Godfrey from Niagara County. “It’s not 100 percent but it’s great news.”

Johnson and Godfrey say the remaining unserved areas after Charter’s work may be too small to get a vendor to step in and provide the service. The state funds, and possibly federal money being pushed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), may be able to reach the last mile so the entire counties are covered.

Johnson is pleased Charter has Orleans in its build-out plan. She believes about four years of work, of identifying unserved households and pressing the state and federal government about the lack of high-speed Internet, paid off with Charter putting Orleans among the 145,000 to be served.

The state and industry maps for service were wrong before, Johnson said. The state and broadband companies had said 97 percent of Orleans was covered. But local government officials and a consultant went house to house and identified a much bigger unserved population – about 3,600 of the approximately 20,000 households in Orleans didn’t have access to high-speed Internet.

The four villages – Albion, Holley Lyndonville and Medina – all have 100 percent access. But out in the country it’s a different story. There are entire segments of some rural roads with no high-speed Internet access.

Orleans officials will be meeting with Charter later this month to discuss the build-out. Johnson will urge the company to fill all of the missing gaps. She also wants Orleans to be early in the build-out that will be spread over four years in the state.

“This is truly a win for the two counties,” Johnson said.

Godfrey also is pleased with the plan for more service in Niagara.

“It’s quite amazing how much they will do,” he said.

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