Thursday, July 13, 2017

Localities Can Help Boost Slow Adirondack Broadband Speeds

Most Adirondackers spend a lot of time twiddling their thumbs in frustration with internet download speeds so slow they would be laughable in most American cities and many countries around the world.


There is something we and our public officials can do about the problem, but time is running out.  August 15 is the deadline for proposals from internet providers to compete for improvement projects paid from a pot of state money that could help a great deal. Up for grabs is over $400 million reserved for areas which the state considers “unserved” and “underserved” by broadband internet speed.


Guess what region of the state has the highest percentage of households defined as “unserved?” You got it. Us, the Adirondacks.


Take a peek at all the colored blobs on the above map of northern New York (or click here for larger version), indicating areas eligible for state broadband funding because they don’t have adequate broadband internet connections.


New York State defines minimum acceptable broadband as 100 Mbps (megabits per second) download time from the web to your computer. Think of Mbps like miles per hour on the highway. Our download speeds compare to a Model T’s maximum speed versus a Porsche, with ours less than 6 Mbps in many homes. At even roughly three times that speed, it would take thirty minutes to download an HD movie.


To put 100 Mbps in perspective, some countries, like South Korea, already enjoy 300 Mbps down. Until recently, there were very few places in the Adirondacks with speeds of 100 Mbps, let alone speeds equal to South Korea’s. In today’s world, access to high-speed broadband is an economic necessity. For example, Wall Street investment funds and banks must have speeds thousands of times faster because nanoseconds of download time can be the difference between huge profit and loss.


If you are curious, go to this link now and measure your own download speed. It’s good to do it two or three times as speed can vary.  


August 15 is the deadline for the third and probably final round of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New New York Broadband Program. Cuomo, with legislative support, established the program in 2015 with the ambitious goal of providing access to high-speed broadband to 100 percent of New Yorkers by the end of 2018.


In phase one of Cuomo’s program, the state distributed more than $54 million to enhance internet speed. The North Country secured about $6 million in phase one and a little over $31 million of the $211 million awarded in phase two. However, since there are still many households in the North Country lacking access to high-speed broadband, it is imperative that our county and town officials work closely with all interested providers to ensure that the providers submit the most robust phase three applications possible.


“Franklin County, which got NO funding in rounds one and two of the New New York Program, is determined to get a good chunk in round three,” said my friend Barbara Rice, chair of the Franklin County Legislature. Applications for Franklin County projects will hopefully fare well in the grant chase because it has some of the greatest unmet broadband need in the North Country, indeed, the state.


“Broadband provides connections for our first responders and health-care providers, and from a social standpoint it allows communication with family and friends. The Franklin County Legislature views broadband expansion as a necessity and we are pushing hard to ensure we aren’t left out of this final phase of funding,” says Barb.


“Based on what I’ve been hearing, Spectrum [formerly Time Warner Cable] our biggest provider, is not planning to apply in round three bidding” she said.


However, Franklin County is working with Slic Network Solutions and Mohawk Networks. Mohawk provides internet service to the Akwesasne reservation and casino and is interested in bidding to extend service to the mostly flat and rural areas at the northern end of Franklin County. The wireless technology provided by Mohawk will not work in the more mountainous areas at the southern end of the county, as any cell-phone owner knows. Slic installs fiber technology to homes, which could serve the southern part of the county.


Rice said Franklin County also is considering ways it could provide bridge funding to entice small providers to apply for projects in Franklin County. The state grants pay off only when projects are complete, which would not be a problem for a huge company like Verizon, but can be a big hurdle for small companies who must lay out large cash sums up front and wait for reimbursement.


I would encourage everyone to contact their local town and county officials and ask them to work with their local providers to ensure that every county in the North Country is working as hard as Franklin to go after this state money.

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Dave Wolff

Dave Wolff is a Saranac Lake native and lives at the family homestead on Lake Kiwassa. He retired from IBM in 2006 after 31 years in sales and consulting. For seven years Dave has hosted the Monthly Broadband Call for professionals and officials working to improve Adirondack broadband. Dave graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics from Trinity College and earned an MBA from Dartmouth College and an master’s in computer science from VPI. Both Dave and his wife are 46ers.


5 Responses

  1. charlie frenette says:

    I have a camp on the shores of Big Tupper Lake in Tupper. I was fortunate to have SLIC install fiber to my camp. It is fast and reliable. Importantly, the customer service organization is very responsive and neighborly… very home town oriented. In some respects, I seem them as the equivalent of a local craft brewers… local, friendly, quality and service oriented. It would be great for NYS to fund SLIC’s ability to extend their network more broadly.

  2. Don Sage says:

    The other problem is for the local companies to get funding, financing. No one wants to loan SLIC or other companies the funds necessary to get the job done. Cuomo has been no help in this matter, nor have the banks or lending organizations. Here, in Schroon, we have been working with SLIC for five years to get the fiber high-speed internet. Most of the delays are from the state agencies and funding sources. Cuomo’s policy of needing permits from APA,DEC, and DOT for companies just to replace a utility pole on an existing line is rediculous. As you point out, by the time we, the Adirondacks, get the 100 Mbps it will be obsolete and everyone else will be at the 300 Mbps or better.

  3. Kyle says:

    400 MILLION DOLLARS!!!???!?

    Gee, I wonder who’s friends/cronies that is going to?

  4. Matthew H Mosher says:

    I have contacted numerous state and local reps and gotten no help whatsoever. Only house on my road without cable. Our policians here are pretty much like they are anywhere else, all hot air. Our region will NEVER be fully covered with broadband.

  5. Judy Watts says:

    Never going to happen in this region.

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