County Leg accepts $3.6 million bid to fill broadband gaps in Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 July 2021 at 6:16 pm

‘It’s essential we act to finally close the digital divide that has kept so many of our rural communities from reaching their full potential.’ – Lynne Johnson, Orleans County Leg chairwoman

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature today voted unanimously to accept a $3,608,435 bid to make high-speed internet available for the current 1,351 address points that can’t connect to the service.

RTO Wireless of Wellesley, Mass., was awarded the bid from the County Legislature, which culminates a 10-year effort from the county to close the internet gaps.

“Today marks the end of an ambitious and long sought after quest, and the beginning of a new era for Orleans County – high-speed, reliable and affordable internet for every home and business in the county,” said Lynne Johnson, Legislature leader for the county.

The county on May 25 sought requests for proposals (RFPs) for companies to provide wireless internet service for 1,351 addresses in the county currently without access to the service. Companies were asked to submit proposals where they would co-locate their technology on existing county-owned communication towers.

Those sites include at the Emergency Management Office on West County House Road in Albion, Route 31A in Clarendon, Maple Ridge Road in Medina, Route 31 in Albion next to Public Safety Building, West Avenue in Lyndonville, Route 237 in Kendall, Route 237 in Holley by the water tank.

The total of unserved addresses in the county includes 74 in Albion, 302 in Barre, 35 in Carlton, 57 in Clarendon, 39 in Gaines, 16 in Kendall, 41 in Murray, 287 in Ridgeway, 206 in Shelby, and 294 in Yates for 1,351 total.

The last month the Legislature voted to accept $3,918,951 from U.S. Department of Treasury, the first half of the American Rescue Plan Act funds for Orleans. The county expects to use some of those funds for the project, but also will be seeking other federal grants, including to help some of the homeowners with the hook-up costs for connecting to the technology.

Johnson said the FCC considers Orleans County to be nearly covered with high-speed internet access.

“But residents report the service is slow and unreliable,” she said. “And with only one provider serving much of the county, customers have little leverage to demand better service.”

The high-speed internet is critical for students to do online coursework, for residents to have the option to work at home, and for other quality of life issues that depend on high-speed internet.

“Our ability to diversify our economic base is dependent on modern infrastructure, and that includes broadband,” Johnson said during the Legislature’s meeting. “We can say, ‘Come and work here,’ but if we don’t have modern amenities, modern infrastructure, the sales pitch falls flat.”

David Godfrey, a Niagara County legislator, has worked with Johnson and Orleans officials on the issue through the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance. He said the Niagara County Legislature next week is expected to award a bid to provide internet in its unserved areas.

“We’ve put a lot of time and labor and heartache into this,” Godfrey said.

The counties have been shut out in previous attempts to get state and federal funding.

“I can think of no better way to use the Rescue Funds than to bring our communities into the 21st Century,” he said.