Orleans ready to go for broadband Internet money

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 February 2016 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul attended the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council meeting in Rochester on Thursday. She said a $500 million push from the state to expand broadband Internet will be a big boost to students, residents and businesses in underserved areas of the state, including Orleans County. Hochul is pictured with Danny Wegman, left, and Joel Seligman, University of Rochester president, who both serve as co-chairmen of the council.

ROCHESTER – New York State will begin accepting applications next week for $500 million to expand high-speed Internet. Orleans County officials are ready to pounce on the money.

Orleans has been working on the issue for several years, determining the needs in the county and working with an engineer on how to best to best expand the service. Orleans also has teamed with Niagara County, in a two-county effort to bring high-speed Internet to areas with no service or low speeds.

“We’ve been doing our homework for years,” said Lynne Johnson, an Orleans County legislator working on the issue. “We’re two voices.”

Gov. Cuomo and the State legislature are setting aside $500 million, which needs to be matched by private industry in expanding the service. That means there is at least $1 billion directed to improving the service.

The merger of Time Warner and Charter Communications also will result in expanded coverage, said Vincent Esposito, director of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.

“As part of the Time Warner and Charter Communications merger, they will have to upgrade service,” Esposito said on Thursday during a meeting of the Regional Economic Development Council at the Rochester Convention Center. “Orleans County will be part of the Time Warner upgrade.”

About a third of the geographic area in Orleans County does not have access to high-speed Internet. That is the same in Niagara County. The two counties are proposing that companies use more cable to serve those areas and also install wireless technology.

“A blended solution is the only way you will reach the last house,” said Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey.

It is too costly for companies to run cable on roads with a few houses. But wireless technology is more affordable for sparsely populated areas, he said after the meeting in Rochester on Thursday.

Orleans is part of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, and Niagara is the the Western New York council. The two counties are seeking funds through both councils, which Godfrey and Johnson said boosts the chances for more coverage in the two counties.

The applications to the state will be accepted from March 1 to April 15.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul attended the meeting at the Convention Center. She said much of upstate lacks access to high-speed Internet. That puts those areas at a major disadvantage, she said.

Many employers require prospective job applicants to fill out applications on-line, and students are required to do homework on-line. Businesses increasingly sell products by the Internet and need to fill out reports and do research on-line. Residents also enjoy streaming movies.

“If you have it, you don’t think about it,” Hochul said about high-speed Internet. “If you don’t, you’re gasping for air.”

Hochul said the upcoming investment in broadband will make New York more attractive for residents and businesses.

“We’ll be the most covered state in the nation,” she said. “It will be a big advantage for us.”