Officials say Orleans at disadvantage with poor high-speed Internet

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 March 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson speaks 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 today 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.

KNOWLESVILLE – The leader of the state’s effort to extend Broadband or high-speed Internet throughout the state heard this morning how the lack of service in parts of Orleans County puts residents and businesses at a disadvantage.

It also discourages many potential residents and businesses from coming to the county, said Skip Draper, town supervisor for Shelby.

“Commerce is driven by what is there and if it isn’t there, then we just have fields and woods,” Draper said during a Broadband discussion this morning led David Salway, director of NYS Broadband Program Office.

Gov. Cuomo is proposing $500 million in state funds to jumpstart the New NY Broadband Program. Private sectors companies would need to at least match the funding to extend and upgrade service.

That $1 billion-plus investment in public and private funds is far more than the $25 million the state has been setting aside recently to expand the service, Salway said.

Companies that provide the service will be required to offer 100 megabits per second download speeds for the expansion or at least 25 megabits in remote rural areas. That is far greater than the current standard of 6.6 megabits, Salway said.

“It’s a very ambitious goal, but a very achievable goal,” Salway told about 20 local officials and business owners during a roundtable discussion at the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

David Salway, director of NYS Broadband Program Office, speaks during a discussion about Broadband this morning at the Cooperative Extension. He is joined by Angela Liotta, the state’s Broadband outreach director, and Vinnie Esposito, director of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.

Salway has been traveling the state to hear how inadequate Internet is a deterrent for businesses and quality-of-life issues. He heard from several officials how low-quality Internet is putting Orleans County at a competitive disadvantage.

“This is about emerging ag businesses and getting people to live here,” said Jim Whipple, CEO of the Orleans Economic Development Agency.

The county is seeing more wineries, hops operations and other small farming operations open, often in rural areas where there isn’t high-speed Internet.

Whipple said he talks with CEOs from bigger companies who are eyeing potential homes if they were to settle in the area. They are surprised when they learn some parts of the county don’t have Broadband.

That means they can’t stream Netflix, they can’t Skype, they can’t work remotely from home, and in some cases can’t complete filings for the government. If they have children, they can’t do on-line research for school projects.

Tom Biamonte, owner of Shelby Crushed Stone, is a mile away from high-speed Internet on Blair Road. He can’t do sales tax reports and regulatory filings from his main office, which is only a mile from Route 31.

He and his employees lack real-time capability for many reports and communication.

“We’re falling behind,” Biamonte told Salway during the discussion. “It’s harder for us to provide up-to-date training with our guys.”

He has asked Time Warner many times to run a line with the service down the road, but the company hasn’t moved on it.

Ward Dobbins, owner of H.H. Dobbins Inc. in Lyndonville, said relaible and adequate Internet is critical for his company. County Legislator Ken DeRoller is next to Dobbins.

Salway said the state funds should make running lines down many rural roads more financially doable for companies because they won’t have to bear the full costs. For very sparsely populated roads, Salway said the state may want to consider state funds, dollars from the Internet providers, and perhaps some money from people being served in that area.

Ward Dobbins, owner of H.H. Dobbins Inc. in Lyndonville, said the company is expanding its apple packing and storage business and needs reliable high-speed Internet to communicate with customers around the world. Employees could also monitor the facilities off site through their Smart phones with strong enough Internet.

“Even though we’re rural we’re global in agriculture,” Dobbins said. “Our needs have changed so much in five years.”

Orleans and Niagara counties have been working to together to identify gaps in high-speed coverage and to prepare a request for proposals for companies to provide service to 3,900 “unserved access points” in Orleans and seven towns in Niagara County.

The timing of the effort comes at a good time with the state funding push by the governor, said Evhen Tupis from BPGreene, the firm that worked with the two counties on the study. The counties are evaluating proposals from the Internet providers.

“This shows collaboration among counties and towns,” Tupis said.

Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson said the two counties have done the groundwork in establishing the need for high-speed Internet and reaching out to companies for the service. The state funds could bring the effort to a reality, and make the county a better place to live and work, Johnson said.

“We are competing against other counties and right now our hands are tied in this area,” she said. “We see the need from the local businesses. Hopefully we can leverage one of the first roll-outs in the area.”