County officials optimistic state funds for broadband will reach Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 January 2016 at 12:00 am

ALBION – Orleans County officials have been working for four years to identify locations in the county without high-speed Internet and to lay the groundwork for bringing the service to rural homes and businesses.

County officials believe those efforts put the county in a good position to receive some of the $500 million in state funds that Gov. Andrew Cuomo says will expand the service throughout the state by 2018.

“We’ve proven the need,” said Lynne Johnson, an Orleans County legislator who has headed local efforts to expand broadband. “(Today’s announcement) is a positive shot in the arm.”

Orleans and Niagara counties have worked together mapping areas of need, and developing requests for proposals from companies. The state today said it will seek RFPs from companies to bring the service to 10 regions.

Johnson was part of the conference call today with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. The state will seek bids from companies with a goal to serve the most homes at the lowest cost.

Johnson said she is optimistic Orleans County will be in the first round of the funding. However, she said many areas have been pressing the state and Internet providers for better coverage.

“Other counties have as dire need as we do,” she said.

In addition to the $500 million in state funding, a merger between Time Warner and Charter Communications comes with a directive from the state Public Service Commission to install line extensions that will bring high-speed broadband to 145,000-plus unserved and underserved homes and businesses. The merged company also needs to upgrade the system to increase service speeds.

Johnson and Chuck Nesbitt, the county chief administrative officer, say they are grateful the issue is on the governor’s agenda.

“We applaud the governor for making money available,” Nesbitt said.

The initiative is a public-private partnership that will bring “last-mile” broadband services to New Yorkers and significantly expand connectivity in the most remote regions of the state.

Central components of the program include:

New access to broadband at speeds of at least 100 Mbps; 25 Mbps in the most remote areas of the state.

Public-private partnership with a required 50 percent match in private sector investment targeted across the program.

High priority for projects that most improve broadband Internet access in underserved areas, including libraries and educational opportunity centers.

Applications will be chosen through a “reverse-auction” process, which will award funding to projects bidders seeking the lowest state investment.

Auctions to be held within each Regional Economic Development Council region to ensure statewide allocations of funding.

For more on the state’s broadband program, click here.