Friday, May 22, 2009

Town of Keene Getting Wired for Broadband

Five years ago only a third of the 1,000 households in the town of Keene had broadband Internet service. By the end of this year John LaFountaine, lineman for Keene Valley Video (KVVI), the town’s locally owned Internet service provider, expects to string high-speed fiber-optic cable to 90 percent of the homes in the hamlets of Keene, Keene Valley and St. Huberts.

If you live inside the broadband bubble it can be hard to grasp that there are still people out there whose service disconnects or grinds on for ten minutes if someone tries to e-mail them a photograph. But a lot of Adirondackers are still in a dial-up world (there is no parkwide estimate of the number).

A few years ago a coalition of Keene residents, school officials, parents and KVVI teamed up to try to figure out how to keep school enrollment strong, how to keep KVVI in business despite a small customer base, and how to wire the town. Their thinking was that with broadband access, more families with school-age children would be able to move to Keene and work from home, and that their own kids wouldn’t have to leave to find work.

Senator Betty Little helped obtain a $100,000 state economic development grant to purchase equipment, and yesterday townspeople and a selected handful of Keene Central School students thanked her in a little ceremony at the Keene Town Hall.

Because of its mountainous topography Keene chose to run state-of-the-art fiber-optic cable house to house, and some other Adirondack towns are looking at using towers to beam wireless signals to far-flung homes. Keene organizers hope their project might serve as an example for other mountain communities trying to expand network access. “We’re ahead of the curve on this,” volunteer Jim Herman said. “This is Keene at its finest. So many people worked together to make this possible.” The first phase of the project will cost about $300,000; $200,000 of that amount has been raised privately, much of it from seasonal residents, and KVVI has donated labor.

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Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.




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