Orleans, Niagara still pushing for broadband Internet, but in a holding pattern

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 May 2016 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson, left, and Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey, leaders with the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance, update the Albion Rotary Club on the efforts bring more high-speed Internet to rural areas in the two counties. Rotary member Bruce Landis is at right.

GAINES – Officials from Orleans and Niagara counties continue to work to expand high-speed Internet access in the two counties.

The two counties have formed the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance, with the push for more broadband Internet a top priority for the two-county alliance.

However, the effort is “in a holding pattern” due to the merger of Time Warner and Charter Communications, Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson told the Albion Rotary Club last week.

As part of the merger, Charter needs to expand service to 145,000 homes that don’t already have high-speed access. The FCC on May 6 approved Charter Communications’ $79 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

Charter has 45 days from May 6 to provide addresses for the 145,000 homes where it plans to extend service. Once those addresses are known, Orleans and Niagara officials can see how it effects service coverage locally.

The state has made $500 million in funds available to expand high-speed Internet. New York is seeking at least a matching commitment from private industry to extend broadband to underserved areas.

Orleans and Niagara have identified 4,300 homes without high-speed Internet access. The lack of service is a major deterrent to attracting and keeping residents and businesses, Johnson said.

“Our message is we haven’t given up,” she said. “As two counties we stand ready for what is so desperately needed on our rural roads for schools, residents and farms.”

The two counties last year approved a Memorandum of Understanding with vendors to develop a rural broadband network with the goal of making high-speed internet access available in every household.

The two counties, working together as the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance, have entered into an MOU with the team of Seneca Solutions and Resolute Partners. The companies developed a network on the Cattaraugus Indian Territory.

They are ready to pursue grant funding and to design, install, operate and maintain the rural broadband network for Orleans and Niagara, Johnson said.

Godfrey, the Niagara County legislator, expects the network will be mostly wireless. That is the wave of the future, and it is cheaper and more practical than installing cable, especially in rural pockets of the two counties with few homes, he said.

“We’ve been shovel-ready for two years,” he said about the broadband push. “We’ve done our homework, we’re just waiting for the money.”

Godfrey lives in rural Wilson. He said two families recently built new homes in that Niagara town, but moved out because there wasn’t broadband Internet. The families moved because their children couldn’t do homework without high-speed Internet, Godfrey said. Fast Internet also is needed for businesses to submit reports and residents to search for jobs and fill out applications.

“We’re more than disadvantaged,” Godfrey said. “We’re discriminated against.”

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, also is pushing for rural broadband money. Upstate New York could lose more than $170 million in federal aid for expanding high-speed Internet because Verizon has turned down the money.

Schumer and Gov. Andrew Cuomo want the federal aid to be available for other companies that would expand coverage in New York.

“We have a lot of very loud voices speaking on behalf of Orleans County,” Johnson said.