Adirondack broadband is possible, but faces challenges beyond putting the cables up

Regional News

FILE – In this Oct. 2, 2007 file photo, A.J. Bowen of Schupp’s Line Construction, Inc. works on fiber-optic installation in Norton, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – For some, the idea of accessible internet is a given. If you’re moving into a new apartment or home in a city like Albany, or even a more spread-out region like Queensbury, you likely move in assuming you’ll be able to get the level of connection you need.

But that’s not true anymore as you pass through into the Adirondacks. That’s a fact the Warren County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is looking to change; mile by mile, house by house.

The EDC is taking a new role in laying down cable and the groundwork for a more well-connected North Country, to connect homes and businesses alike. It’s a project long in the making, and in the EDC’s home county, one that has made a lot of headway.

“The work we’ve done over the last year and a half has been really productive,” said Jim Siplon, EDC president, on Monday. “There are scores of businesses, institutions and libraries that now have access, and before, they didn’t have it.”

The work Siplon is talking about comprised high-speed internet brought to around 2,700 homes in Warren County last fall. In towns like Johnsburg, Warrensburg, Thurman and Stony Creek, the EDC worked with provider Slic Network Solutions to install a total of 200 miles of new fiber optic cable.

Now, they’re aiming bigger. The EDC’s newest effort is the North Country Broadband Alliance, a collaboration between six counties, including Warren. The alliance also includes four private internet providers. It’s an alliance made to bridge one of the hardest gaps in getting internet out to the farthest reaches of a given area: the cost.

“Even the state controller identified a number of state policies that are, if not impeding, certainly disincentivizing, rural broadband,” Spilon commented.

The alliance covers Warren, Washington, Essex, Hamilton, Franklin and Clinton counties.

Cost per mile

The alliance exists to seek out federal grant funds to tackle the several ways in which getting a stable internet connection out to miles of sparsely populated road can be a hurdle. Some of those issues aren’t even about getting broadband deployed, but about the upkeep thereafter. They can be as simple as the poles that carry those cables; and in fact, that’s a big one.

The internet companies that want to expand into new places have to pay fees to the owners of the poles where their cables would run. That creates an extra cost that lasts a lot longer than just the act of running the cable down a new road; as long as the cable is active, the broadband providers have to pay.

State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner has helped champion a bill that would allow internet providers to negotiate a fair price. Currently, the pole owner sets the cost, and that’s the start and end of it. That bill is currently at the desk of Gov. Kathy Hochul, and Siplon says it’s a great step. But the costs are still there.

Another issue trades in wooded backroads for highways. The state Department of Transportation charges a fee to utilize right-of-ways on state highways, which creates another regular cost that providers have to reconcile.

“It’s essentially the state taxing federal dollars for broadband deployment,” Siplon said. “That seems counterproductive.”

Siplon said maps of broadband coverage reveal exactly the fallout of that problem. Providers have a tendency to avoid dealing with laying cable along those highways, which dictates a lot about what’s available where. As for the multi-county allied approach, it gives every county and provider more of a voice, and more of a choice of getting funding that can tip the scales.

“Really, at the end of the day, carriers are trying to figure out, ‘Can I operate this and will it make money?'” Siplon said. “We need this to be able to make money, because that’s how this works.”

Mapping out who’s left

In Warren County, the EDC still has somewhere between 450 and 600 known homes without internet coverage on the list. More often than not, the ones still left are the ones that are the hardest to get to.

“These are the hardest to serve, the most rural,” Siplon detailed. “You might have a long-haul stretch where there’s just one resident on a very remote section of road. It gets harder and more expensive as you get to 100%.”

Understanding those long, empty stretches better is another thing made easier by cooperating with different counties. Even if a long stretch of road may not immediately seem profitable to providers, there always may be a community on the other side of the county line that will only get their own shot at broadband if those very occasional houses along the way get it first.

In that way, the EDC and the alliance – which is being led by Hamilton County on grant applications – are hoping to lead better internet slowly further north, through parts of the Adirondacks that don’t have access yet. To better visualize what that looks like, the EDC maintains a coverage map.

(Image: Warren County GIS program)

The places where development isn’t happening are the places that Siplon says show the flaws in current state policy. That’s especially true in Hamilton County, where so far, almost no expansion is shown as happening.

Even where there is existing infrastructure, though, there’s work to do. Generation-old hardware can always be upgraded. Siplon gave a personal example.

“I have a lake house up north, and because there’s fiber to the lake house, I have better broadband performance there than I have in Glens Falls.”

So far, the alliance has filed for a National Telecommunications Information Administration grant, and is poised to start on more work once the status of that application is confirmed. The alliance applied for aid for more than 3,000 homes across the six counties involved, and is hoping for a total investment of $20 million.

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