Town seeks bids for broadband system

By Jay Wrolstad
The Town of Caroline is seeking bids from broadband service providers in an effort to finally complete the rollout of high-speed Internet access in the outer reaches of the community.
The request for proposals (RFP) was posted by the town on July 15, with a deadline for submissions of Monday, Aug. 8. It identifies the targeted project area as from the Danby town line to the Dryden town line on a north-south axis, and east from the current terminus of Time Warner’s service at Slaterville Springs to the Richford town line.
It’s the latest effort to reach residents in portions of the town that have little or no access to broadband Internet—a work in progress since at least 2012.
The Connect NY Broadband Grant Program for New York State was announced in Albany at the end of August 2012 to bring service to residents of New York State who lack high-speed Internet, primarily because potential service providers were unable to justify the capital costs to build out infrastructure in these areas.
In March 2013 Ithaca-based Clarity Connect won a $2.2 million state award to install the infrastructure to serve 95 percent of currently un-served residents for nine towns in Tompkins and Cayuga counties (Ulysses, Newfield, Danby, Groton, Lansing, Genoa, Venice, Scipio and Niles) for a project size of nearly $3 million.
Enfield and Caroline, in Tompkins County, and Ledyard, Sempronius and Summerhill, in Cayuga County, were largely left out of the grant by the state due to the cost of providing service in low-population areas.
Funding for Enfield was fully restored, while Caroline’s was partially restored (covering 40 to 50 percent of un-served households) by re-engineering the project and with additional money obtained through private and public contributions.
Clarity Connect uses wireless broadband technology for this project, including the installation of telephone pole-style “towers” and the use of existing EMS transmission towers. Problems arose in Caroline, as the topography and geography in parts of the town required additional poles to provide the clean lines of sight needed for this wireless network, and because obtaining easements for equipment installation proved difficult.
Town board member Gary Reinbolt, chairman of Caroline’s Broadband Committee, explains that a critical issue arose when Clarity Connect proposed moving one tower from its original location on the ridge marking the Danby/Caroline border, designed to provide service to portions of both towns, to a site on Vandemark Road above Brooktondale.
“That tower had very narrow coverage area because of the topography,” Reinbolt says. “Also, the Vandemark site required easements from property owners, some of whom were reluctant to grant permission. The town tried to find a solution that would make this work, but Clarity Connect was working on a deadline for the grant money and they had to fish or cut bait.”
The town could not obtain the necessary approvals from residents, NYSEG and others completed in a timely fashion, he says, so Clarity Connect placed the transmission pole in its original location on the Danby side of the ridge, where the company has approvals and can meet its commitment to the state to install broadband infrastructure in this particular area of Danby.
“And even with the proposed coverage for our town by Clarity Connect there would still be pockets in Caroline with extremely low population density that make it difficult to provide affordable service,” says Reinbolt.
Clarity Connect CEO Chuck Bartosch says rolling out the infrastructure in Caroline proved more costly than expected. “We scaled back the project there, and then we had the easement problem,” he says. “We had a deadline to get the poles put up, so we had to leave Caroline and concentrate on the areas where the work could get done.”
As a result, the town is seeking alternatives finish the job. “We want to make this happen,” Reinbolt says. “We have some grant money and some private money to complete the project. We want to determine how much that will cost, and the type of technology that can be used, so we presented the request for proposals.”
After the proposals are submitted by Aug. 6 they will be reviewed by town officials, with specifications and other details then ironed out with the preferred contactor. Reinbolt said a fiber-optic broadband system is preferred, because it offers virtually limitless upgrades and it does not have the limitations inherent in wireless technology. The cost of fiber-optic technology has fallen in recent, making it even more attractive.
Working in the town’s favor, Reinbolt says, is the Time Warner-Charter Communication mega-merger. He explains that the New York Public Service Commission, as a condition of approving the deal, requires that the new company extend high-speed Internet service to rural area of the state, which could include Caroline.
“We will initiate a conversation with state regulators to make our town a priority,” he says. “That would mean spending fewer tax dollars for the project, although there would be other costs. This requirement could make extending service here more attractive.”
Reinbolt notes that high-speed Internet access is no longer a luxury. “The bottom line is that broadband access is essential for doing business, applying for jobs, in education, for every-day communications, for property values. We want to get this project done as soon as possible; it has already taken too long,” he says.