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March 6, 2013

Otsego gets grant to expand broadband

By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — Residents of rural towns and villages throughout Otsego County may soon be able to subscribe to a wireless internet connection thanks to a state-granted windfall of nearly $560,000 intended to make broadband more accessible.

The Connect NY grant, totaling $558,940, is being awarded to the Otsego County Industrial Development Authority to provide so-called “last mile wireless broadband” in response to an application packaged by county economic developer Carolyn Lewis, state and local officials said.

The build-out of the network could begin in as soon as three months, said Michael Spagnola, president of Comp Direct USA, an Oneida County-based company that would act as the service provider for those who subscribe.

Lewis said the monthly fee to connect is expected to be roughly $40 a month.

She said the cost of extending hard-wire Internet service to rural communities is viewed by many service providers as too expensive based on the expected return. The state grant money will cover the cost of the build-out of the wireless system, she said.

“As the technology grows, we believe the system will grow with it,” Lewis said.

Spagnola said the company will not provide service in areas that already have access to six megabytes or more of download speed.

“At this time right now, we don’t plan to sell in an area that Time Warner is in,” he said.

Tentative plans call for the wireless service to be installed initially in Edmeston and Burlington Flats, and then to other communities, Spagnola said.

Lewis said the need for providing broadband service to rural communities was one of the most discussed topics at an economic development conference sponsored by Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, last year in Cooperstown.

“I’m optimistic we will be able to reach large numbers of people who currently do not have service,” Lewis said.

Seward said Tuesday his conference showed that the lack of broadband availability has been discouraging people from buying homes and opening businesses in rural areas.

“Obtaining this grant is a big step forward in providing those broadband services which have become so important in people’s everyday lives, and very import as well for those conducting business,” the senator said. “I really see this as a potential boon for our rural areas in terms of attracting people and economic development.”

The county IDA was among 18 broadband projects to reap a Connect NY Broadband grant.

Barbara Ann Heegan, executive director of the Otsego County Chamber, said the extension of broadband services throughout the county “will allow our local businesses to compete on a global level.”

“This is exciting new for our local economy,” she said. “It will help to accelerate business development and provide new opportunities for innovation, expansion and e-commerce.”

The announcement of the grant by the Cuomo administration was good news for a county that has not always fared well in its expeditions for such state and federal government jackpots.

In 2010, the government rejected Otsego County’s request for federal stimulus money to create a 178-mile, $7.2 million fiber-optic telecommunications loop around the county. That project was also intended to bring affordable Internet services to people and institutions in rural communities, although instead of using wireless technology, it would have involved fiber-optic cable.

Larry Bennett, spokesman for the Middlefield-based Brewery Ommegang, said while his company has already installed Internet equipment, the region will benefit by making broadband available to those living and working in rural towns. “Advanced communications is one of the things we really need here,” he said. “This is certainly good news for everybody.”

Springfield Town Supervisor Bill Elsey, who zoomed in on the need for better broadband access when he attended Seward’s economic development conference last year, said he was convinced the new service will stimulate home sales and business development.

He said many homes in Springfield — a town of about 1,300 people — lack broadband access.