Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced that New York State will award $25 million in funding to expand high-speed Internet access in rural upstate and underserved urban areas of New York through the Connect NY Broadband Grant Program, including several projects that will affect the Adirondacks. This newest round of funding brings the total amount for broadband projects during Governor Cuomo’s administration to more than $56 million, the largest statewide broadband funding commitment in the nation, according to the Governor’s office.
Eighteen broadband projects were selected to receive Connect NY Broadband grants based on the endorsement of the Regional Economic Development Councils and technical scores awarded by a committee who analyzed and ranked projects competing for the $25 million in broadband funding. In December, Governor Cuomo also awarded nearly $6 million in funding, from Round 2 of the Regional Economic Development Council initiative, to four project sponsors who will expand high-speed Internet into the North Country region. » Continue Reading.
Clarkson University is now taking registrations at for the second annual Forever Wired Conference on Tuesday, September 7, in Potsdam. Conference organizers intend to grow telework and economic opportunities in the greater Adirondack Park and demonstrate how technology and services can help local businesses and individuals in predominantly rural regions.
Last year’s conference drew more than 260 participants from across New York State and included many seasonal residents of the Park as well. Adirondack Almanack founder John Warren covered the event for the Almanack. This year sessions include a panel of independent broadband technology experts who will answer questions about existing and emerging broadband alternatives; representatives from brick and mortar businesses adopting new Internet-based business strategies, artisans using emerging online business strategies to expand their outreach; and independent entrepreneurs adopting broadband as their primary interface point with customers.
The conference is a central component of the Adirondack Initiative for Wired Work, which is championed by a team of regional leaders and energized professionals dedicated toward creation of a sustainable economy in the greater Adirondacks. Through their activities, the Adirondack Initiative encourages telework, green-tech commerce and entrepreneurship from home offices and businesses with minimal impact on the natural environment.
Clarkson University is expanding support services for teleworkers and entrepreneurs in the area. Renovations are underway now for the Adirondack Business Center hosted by the Clarkson Entrepreneurship Center in Saranac Lake, N.Y. The center will be equipped with wireless Internet, a conference room, quiet workspace, and will provide other amenities to the public. The built-in classroom will hold sessions such as “My Small Business 101” to advance practical business skills of local entrepreneurs.
For more information on the Adirondack Initiative for Wired Work, or to register for the Forever Wired Conference, go to http://www.clarkson.edu/adk, e-mail [email protected] or call 315-268-4483.
Last year, Clarkson University launched its Adirondack Initiative for Wired Work, known colloquially as Forever Wired. I’ve been following this with interest partly because it has the potential to change the economic and cultural dynamics of the Adirondack Park and partly because it’s an intriguing and ambitious way to more closely link my alma mater to the region.
The Almanack has offered some good coverage of the initiative, as well as pointing out the difficulty of finding concrete data related to broadband usage and access inside the Blue Line. With the Park threatened by expected deep cuts to the public sector workforce on which the region’s economy is heavily dependent, expanded broadband access will become even more critical to boosting the region’s private sector.
In this context, it seems fortuitous that the Federal Communications Commission recently launched and has heavily promoted its National Broadband Plan.
The FCC views universal broadband access as critical “to advance national purposes such as education, health care, and energy efficiency.”
The plan “recommends that the FCC comprehensively reform both contributions to and disbursements from the Universal Service Fund to support universal access to broadband service, including through creation of the Connect America Fund.”
The Commission has recently put particular focus on increasing broadband access in rural areas. A 2009 FCC report described broadband as “the interstate highway of the 21st century for small towns and rural communities, the vital connection to the broader nation and, increasingly, the global economy.” The 2009 ‘Stimulus Package’ provided some $7.2 billion for broadband projects.
As with cell phone and cable television coverage, broadband access faces particular challenges in sparsely populated, often isolated rural areas. But it will be interesting to see if the FCC’s plan and Forever Wired can help expand this infrastructure many see as critical to expanding economic opportunities in the Adirondacks.
Having taken some time to digest everything that happened at Clarkson University’s Forever Wired conference this week, I thought I’d try to wrap up the experience (coverage by Almanack contributor Mary Thill and me here) with some thoughts about what’s happening, where we’re heading, and where we should be headed. It seems to me that several strands are developing around the issue of a wired workforce in the Adirondacks. The first is the technological build-out of broadband in the Adirondack region. Mary covered what we know is happening and has happened here, but there is still a lot to be learned. The big providers hold their plans close to the vest, but as Mary noted recent developments by CBN Connect, a nonprofit affiliated with SUNY Plattsburgh, and the Development Authority of the North Country (DANC) have gotten us off to a good start, and there are hopes for a small piece of the $7.2 billion federal stimulus funds for broadband to extend coverage into the park. There is still, however, the looming question of how much of the park has broadband now. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Congresswoman Kirstin Gillibrand, and Clarkson President Tony Collins have all said that 70 percent of the park lacks broadband, but without public data (and real baseline for what should really be called broadband), we just don’t know. The bottom line is that on the technology build-out front, we’re moving forward, albeit hopefully. Clarkson president Tony Collins said the next step is a retreat September 22 at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake for an infrastructure working panel, an offshoot of the Forever Wired gathering.
A second big piece coming into play was highlighted at the Forever Wired conference. Much of the energy there is being put into convincing seasonal residents to move themselves and their jobs to the Adirondacks and work from home. Proponents of this plan point to the recent study by the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages that indicated declining school enrollments and an aging park population. The general sense is that bringing new residents into the park will improve both situations and that selling the Adirondack wired lifestyle will help turn around our sluggish local economies. A plus side to the wired-permanent-residents approach is that it could lower the number of individuals with mailing addresses outside the park, those who currently own about half of the total residential property value and that may increase local property values and grow local property tax revenue. It’s felt that more full-time residents will also mean more jobs, but it might also mean fewer jobs for our current crop of young residents as new full-timers with technology skills take jobs. There is also the affordable housing squeeze, and then of course, more development sprawl caused by wiring the backcountry and lakeshores.
The final piece I want to mention has been generally left out of the equation—employing current local residents in existing wired work opportunities. If we’re going to have a plan for wired work, it would be helpful to know how many workers in the park might be eligible to move toward telecommuting. Human resources departments, bookkeeping and accounting, marketing, secretarial, media, political boards and committees, and no doubt other positions could possibly be moved to the home office. A representative of IBM reported that home-based employees save the company $100 million a year in real estate costs alone. Increased productivity (believe it or not), reduced costs of childcare, time and money saved on commuting (one of the park’s largest uses of energy) are all benefits of moving Adirondack workers toward wired work from home. Could recent job cuts in Warren County for instance, have been avoided if twenty or thirty percent of the county’s workforce worked from home? Twenty or thirty percent of energy costs? Building costs? Snowplowing? The list goes on. Could the folks who recently lost jobs at the county’s cooperative extension office have kept them if they closed down the office and everyone worked from home? The bottom line here is we don’t know, and the focus on technology build-out, future call center workers, and converted full time residents is leaving out the direct and fairly immediate savings current residents might reap from transitioning existing jobs to wired work now.
Some folks at the Forever Wired conference, folks like Elmer Gates — a Blue Mountain Lake native, engineer-turned-CEO-turned banker and a force in starting the Adirondack North Country Initiative for Wired Work—understand that getting broadband infrastructure here is just one step. Gates told the Almanack that people need training for technical support or call-center jobs. He was also quick to point to support offered by Clarkson University’s Shipley Center for Leadership and Entrepreneurship, where existing start-ups and small businesses can learn to succeed in the new business environment through free consultations.
Gates says he got behind the Wired Work Initiative because he “just got tired of everybody having given up” on finding good jobs in the Adirondacks. “That’s a defeatist attitude and we are going to change it,” he said, adding that he’s not satisfied with the track record of regional economic development agencies and plans to keep the Wired Workforce Initiative a private, volunteer effort.
I like the sound of that. Adirondackers need training for new wired jobs that can keep young people employed in sustainable, environmentally sound ways. But employers (public and private) need training too. They need to learn the benefits of wired work to their bottom line and to their workers’ (and taxpayers) wallets.
Local residents need a to path to the wired work future—who will lead the way?
This summer two Adirondackers embarked on pioneering ventures in park connectivity and shared their stories today at a Forever Wired panel on infrastructure development.
In Paul Smiths, Mark Dzwonczyk’s family spends six weeks of every summer at his wife’s family’s camp on the St. Regis Lakes. As president and COO of a Web conference call company, Dzwonczyk has had to return to work in California while his family stayed here. A few years ago he decided to figure out how to work from the Adirondacks so he could stay too. Verizon customer service told him they’d send somebody out to hook up DSL, but the local linemen knew better: the phone cable runs two miles under the water so it’d be daunting and prohibitively expensive to set up all the relays needed to connect the camp that way. Dzwonczyk tried a satellite connection. Dinner guests due at 6 started showing up at 4:30 with their laptops, he says, and boats would float offshore at night as neighbors tried to tap into the signal.
Finally Dzwonczyk decided to establish a wireless network for 25 of the 50 or so seasonal camps on the St. Regis Lakes. The businesspeople were the ones most enthusiastic about it, he says, thinking they could stay in touch with work, but it turns out that they use only about 5 percent of the bandwidth. Families—especially those with teenage kids—are by far the biggest users.
“The good news is I was here seven weeks this summer, still running my company in Silicon Valley,” Dzwonczyk says. He paid to establish the wireless network “as sort of a friends and family” gesture (each participating camp plays a flat rate usage fee), he says, but he is looking into expanding it as a business venture.
Stephen Svoboda, executive director of the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts in Blue Mountain Lake says the facility opened a business center July 4 to provide Internet access as well as office conveniences such as printing, copying and teleconferencing. Residents of Blue Mountain Lake come in to check e-mail and to shop online, Svoboda says, and hotel guests and other visitors will come in for an hour or two to catch up on work while their families are canoeing “or doing something fun.” [UPDATE: Clarkson University is applying for stimulus funding to host eight to ten similar centers with partners around the Adirondacks. The ALCA business center is something of a pilot project.]
Svoboda recently took the arts center job after working as a playwright and theater arts professor at the University of Miami. He was concerned that a move to the north woods might limit his writing work. He has found that through the Internet he is able to stay active in the larger theater world. “I just finished having a show in Soeul, South Korea, and I never left the Adirondacks to do that show . . . while working in Blue Mountain and living in Tupper Lake,” Svoboda says.
There was a lot of interest in an exchange at the end of the panel, during a question and answer session. David Malone, a corporate sales manager from Verizon, was asked to quantify just how much of the Adirondack Park the company covers. After explaining that Verizon has been putting a lot of attention and investment into erecting 13 cell towers on I-87 (at $550,000 per), and after being asked the question again, he owned that he has no statistics on how much of the Adirondacks Verizon covers. There will be “more buildout” soon in the Malone and Plattsburgh regions, he says, and in Paul Smiths and Keene.
Here at the Forever Wired Conference at Clarkson University there are a lot of folks in suits and sporting bluetooth. Aside from some of the workers building what Clarkson President Tony Collins called “our stimulus project”—a new student center—there are few beards, and fewer bluejeans than an Adirondacker would normally like to encounter. Is it a mark of a changing local economy? I just got out of a session with about 60 attendees entitled “My Adirondack Business 101” led by Marc Compeau, Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship programs here at the university. Compeau’s presentation is designed to be given over four weeks but he covered the basics in about 45 minutes.
Compeau noted that even though the Adirondack region has limited access to the Internet, limited marketing channels, and mostly seasonal brick and mortar businesses, the Big Three of building a sustainable business are still important: building market share, maintaining growth / sustainability, and accessing capital.
Compeau stressed the importance of laying out a plan, marketing (even if you don’t have the Internet at home, your customer does), good people management (through building a workplace culture) and managing change.
I think the big lesson at the session was that just because we are not as wired as the rest of the state (or country, or developing world!) doesn’t mean that we should forget about the wired audience. According to Compeau, 78 percent of homes in the Untied States have a PC and 79 percent of adults use the internet.
www.helpmysmallbusinesstoday.com is Clarkson’s portal for local business people to get free help from the university to help sustainably grow their enterprises.
Blogging live from the Forever Wired Conference at Clarkson University, where a strong turnout of 250 telecommuters, mobile workers, educators and advocates for the region’s economy and technology have gathered to figure out how to use the Internet to develop North Country businesses.
State comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli kicked the conference off with a keynote address on the In-State Private Equity Investment Program. His message in brief: the state is acting as venture capitalist, investing in innovative businesses and new technologies. DiNapoli says the goals of the program are to diversify the state pension fund portfolio and provide returns to the one million people who depend on it; the parallel objectives are to encourage economic growth in New York and create jobs. He credited state investments with creating 2,700 jobs in the state since the program began in 2007, and he says returns have been strong. So far the fund has invested $1 billion, financing 27 companies with an average return of 30 percent. DiNapoli called it a “small success story” in an otherwise stressed state economy and budget. Seventeen investment managers decide which companies to entrust with the pension fund’s money, and about $500 million is available for investment right now.
In the North Country, the the Common Retirement Fund (CRF) invested $2.5 million in ZeroPoint Clean Tech, based in Potsdam, a renewable energy company providing biomass-to-energy and water treatment technologies; $22.5 billion in Navilyst Medical’s acquisition of Boston Scientific Corporation’s catheter manufacturing business, much of it based in Glens Falls; and $6.9 million in Climax Manufacturing Company, of Lowville, manufacturers of folding cartons and recycled paperboards.
Most of the investments around the state similarly went to larger businesses that employ a lot of people, but DiNapoli says the fund is open to entrepreneurial ideas and that he realizes that the economy has made it tough lately for start-ups to access private capital.
“If you are prepared to make a commitment to New York and can make a compelling case for our investment, we’ll make a commitment to you and your business,” the comptroller said. “My message is a simple one: as an investor I am betting on New York.”
John Warren is attending a session on “What are the basic business concepts that will lead to my success” and says he’ll file some thoughts later this afternoon.
If you live in one of the larger Adirondack communities like Old Forge or Lake Placid, chances are you can hook in to some form of high-speed Internet, broadly called broadband. If you live in a small-to-middling hamlet like Cranberry Lake—or if you live in between, on a lakeshore or in the woods—you might be among the nine percent of Americans still using slow, shaky dial-up, or one of a handful using expensive and unreliable satellite, or you just don’t bother.
There are no solid numbers on how many Adirondack Park residents have the option of high-speed Internet. Even local officials often don’t know who can wire to what and where in their towns. (These county maps provide the most complete picture, but an official with the state Office for Technology cautions that the Adirondack data are incomplete.) Most Adirondack broadband users tie in via DSL (digitally enhanced phone line) or cable modem. But a handful of places like Keene have isolated ganglia of fiber-optic cable, the fastest option by far. Fiber optic is called “future proof”: odds are against a better technology replacing it. The hairlike glass strands offer more bandwidth than we’ll ever need, and they’re not far away, literally. The Adirondack Park is surrounded on the east, south and west by major fiber optic cables. They are buried along the Northway (I-87) and the Thruway (I-90), and they run roughly parallel to I-81 from Syracuse to the top of the state.
The reason we’re not hooked in to these trunk lines is that it’s just not profitable enough for Verizon and other private Internet service providers to lay miles and miles of secondary wire to the relatively few, dispersed customers that populate the Adirondacks. That’s why North Country economic- and technology-development organizations are applying for some of the $7.2 billion in federal stimulus plan funds earmarked to bring broadband to rural and low-income areas.
In the northeastern Adirondacks, CBN Connect, a nonprofit affiliated with SUNY Plattsburgh, is seeking $22 million in government money in hopes of starting work this year stringing 420 miles of fiber across Clinton, Essex and Franklin Counties. The open-access line would run from the Canadian border to Ticonderoga and from Lake Champlain to Tupper Lake. CBN is also designing a network and applying for permits to bring fiber to Hamilton, Warren and Washington Counties.
West of the park, the Development Authority of the North Country (DANC) has already built a model of rural Internet-ification, having strung 750 miles of open-access fiber by 2003. However, the line penetrates the Adirondack Park only as far as Newton Falls, where a paper mill needed high-speed to stay in touch with its Canadian owner. DANC officials say they would also like to apply for stimulus funds to expand broadband service in the western park.
These government-funded lines would not be the ones that attach to your house; these are more like main roads. It will still be up to private Internet service providers to step in and use these fiber backbones to offer service to homes and businesses—and connection fees will presumably drop since the really costly part has been subsidized and there will be competition among providers. What connects your house won’t necessarily be fiber, either, though the technology is well-adapted for towns like Keene where houses can be miles apart and mountains block airwaves. A lot of population centers will stick with cable or DSL, though linked to faster, fatter networks. Some will supplement with wireless; officials in Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Cranberry Lake, for example, are looking at sending signals from towers to reach far-flung residents and shoreowners at minimal cost.
They are hoping that seasonal homeowners and vacationers will stay longer and spend more money here if they can work lakeside from an Adirondack chair. This is where the Why comes in—the economic and other rationales for wiring the park—and that is a subject for another post.
Map of DANC’s fiber-optic Open Access Telecom Network (OATN), west of the Adirondack Park. Maps of the Northway and Thruway fiber-optic lines are not available because they are considered “critical state infrastructure.”
Tomorrow, Mary Thill and I will be headed up to Clarkson University in Potsdam for The Adirondack Initiative’sForever Wired Conference. According to the event’s organizers the conference’s goal is “to advance creative work and lifestyle choices by promoting technology and services that encourage commerce and entrepreneurship with negligible impact on the natural environment.” The general idea is to “preserve the unique character of the communities that share the Adirondack Park with wildlife and recreation enthusiasts alike” by fostering exsisting trends in wired work. More than 200 telecommuters, entrepreneurs, business people, educators, economic developers, government representatives, news media and others will be there (including New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli) to encourage regional economic growth in green tech commerce. That means widespread broadband, professional development and educational opportunities geared toward entrepreneurs, telecommuters, working professionals and others interested in responsible and sustainable economic growth in the Adirondacks. The goal of the Adirondack Initiative is to add (by 2019) 2,019 “corporate telecommuters, mobile workers, and working wired entrepreneurs to the region in support of green tech commerce and new economic opportunities that will grow the base of regional residents.”
In a series of posts tomorrow Mary and I will consider some of the challenges, report on what we learn, and offer route suggestions for the path toward growing a technological future in the Adirondacks.