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February 27, 2009

Federal grant to aid Otsego communication

Otsego County's dual-goal project _ improving emergency communications and extending high-speed Internet service to the countryside _ took a step forward this week.

According to Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, a $400,000 grant to improve the county's emergency microwave communications system is included in the 2009 federal Omnibus Appropriations Act. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday and is expected to pass the Senate, according to Rep. James Powers, chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives.

``It's great news for us,'' he said Friday.

The money would be used to complete the tower project on Blend Hill near the Oneonta Municipal Airport.

A 157-foot tower is being erected to replace an older tower, an upgrade that should lead to improve communications with the city of Oneonta. The construction also shores up the county's emergency 911 dispatching system.

Eventually, the Blend Hill tower will be linked to a 180-mile-long fiber-optic ``backbone'' in the county, a conduit meant to hook up wired and wireless Internet users near its path.

After years of planning, the project is coming closer to fruition, and perhaps at just the right time, Powers said.

``There isn't a county in the state that's better prepared to take stimulus money. We'll take all we can get,'' he said.

In the last three years the county has done two studies on how best to upgrade its communications, and it has hired a telecommunications consultant, Kevin Karn of L. Robert Kimball Associates.

``If the federal government is looking for shovel-ready projects, we've got them,'' Powers said.

High on the list would be a line in the fiber-optic network linking the county's public safety and county office buildings, as well as other Internet users in the area.

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