Western Orleans is first focus of county’s broadband wireless effort

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 12 July 2013 at 12:00 am

Orleans County officials say many residents and businesses in the rural outlying areas are at a competitive disadvantage because many areas lack access to high-speed Internet.

That makes it harder for students to complete homework, residents to fill out job applications and businesses to reach customers – tasks that increasingly require high-speed Internet.

The county has tried to coax Time Warner the past three years to extend services in the rural areas, but the cable provider has balked unless it was paid $10,000 a mile to run the infrastructure. The county believes wireless Internet may be the best solution to increasing access at an affordable cost.

The county and three local towns are starting a “mini-study” that could expand to the rest of Orleans and even Niagara counties.

The study will first focus on the towns of Shelby, Ridgeway and Yates, where highway superintendents have been trained to survey their towns to catalog assets that could be used to expand broadband Internet access.

The Niagara Orleans Regional Alliance – led by Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson and Niagara County Legislator Dave Godfrey – has been spearheading an initiative with the goal of attracting last-mile broadband Internet to rural businesses and residents without access.

“The approach is to market the region to a number of Internet service providers and work with them to find a solution that is both profitable to them and have zero long-term costs to local taxpayers while providing affordable broadband services to residents,” said Evhen Tupis, principal at BPGreene and Associates, a rural broadband consulting firm.

To do so, un-served addresses are being cataloged, potential “build on” structures – such as existing communication towers, water towers and other tall structures – are being identified and positioned as assets with potential ISP’s.

There is a focus on Wireless ISP’s because of the inherently lower build-out costs, though cable-line providers are certainly not excluded.

BPGreene and Associates trained the highway superintendents to document the needed information. Tupis of Clarendon is now in the process of repackaging their results into a Request for Comment (RFC). Through it, potential providers will be given the opportunity to provide feedback on the completeness of the information and voice their desire to participate in a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) to actually Internet services.

Legislature Chairman Dave Callard, R-Medina, plans to use the result of the RFC to decide if this approach would warrant more towns in Orleans County.

“As an added benefit, it is quite possible that this initiative may introduce competition in presently-served areas as well,” Tupis said.