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Niagara-Orleans broadband effort recognized at summit in Albany

Staff Reports Posted 16 June 2015 at 12:00 am

File photo by Tom Rivers – Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson is pictured on March 24, speaking about the disadvantages facing many Orleans County residents and businesses due to unavailable or low-quality Internet access. She addressed David Salway, director of NYS Broadband Program Office, during a roundtable discussion at the Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension. Tom Biamonte (left), owner of Shelby Crushed Stone, said his company suffers because there isn’t Internet on Blair Road in Shelby. David Godfrey, a Niagara County legislator, is second from right and Ken DeRoller, Orleans County legislator, is at right.

ALBANY – A two-county collaboration to bring high-speed Internet to underserved rural pockets of the community was recognized last week in Albany as the “Most Collaborative Broadband Program.”

Niagara and Orleans counties have been working on the initiative to extend broadband throughout the two counties through the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance.

Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson and Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey were recognized with the award at the 3rd Annual NYS Broadband Summit. Hosted by the NYS Broadband Program Office, the event honored New York’s outstanding broadband industry leaders.

Johnson and Godfrey were acknowledged for leading a dual county initiative to deliver affordable broadband Internet to unserved address points in both Orleans and Niagara counties after an intensive study revealed more than 3,900 unserved addresses existed in areas the New York Broadband Map had documented was almost 100-percent covered.

In reality, the county leaders said only 65 percent of the rural areas in both counties had access to high-speed Internet. Cable and Internet providers are able to report to the state that an entire census block has Internet coverage, even if only one house on the block has Internet access, which has resulted in inflated coverage reports across New York State.

Johnson and Godfrey were nominated for the award by the Ridgeway Town Supervisor Brian Napoli, who several years ago identified the need for more broadband throughout Orleans and initiated talks on how to expand it.

In early 2014, a NORA-commissioned study from BPGreene & Associates revealed the unserved address points in both Niagara and Orleans counties. Regionally, it was well known there were many areas with no coverage which would hinder economic development efforts, if left unaddressed. NORA’s survey results provided overwhelming data that was so concrete the state accepted NORA’s study to formally update the New York State Broadband Map.

Along with Legislators Johnson and Godfrey, the 2015 Broadband Summit also commended Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the “New NY Broadband Program” created so all New Yorkers would have access to reliable and affordable high-speed Internet service by 2019. The state has committed $500 million to the effort.

Through the NORA Broadband Initiative, Johnson and Godfrey have addressed the lack of connectivity for many residents, small and agri-businesses, tourism and other industries in more rural counties.

The work from NORA has the two counties well positioned to access state funding for high-speed Internet expansion.

“As legislators, we could no longer ignore the broadband gap that existed,” said Orleans County Legislature Chairman David Callard. “We are proud to be part of this trailblazing initiative and thankful for the support of the NYS Broadband Program and Governor Cuomo through his New NY Broadband campaign.”