By E.C. Barrett
CAROLINE – A second phase of funding from New York state will help bring high-speed internet to more homes in Caroline.
The $245,569 grant to fund Haefele TV’s project of wiring 117 Caroline homes for broadband access that was announced late last month is part of the New NY Broadband Program’s $38.8 million second phase of grant funding. In total, the grant funds are expected to help provide 12,835 homes and businesses in the Southern Tier with access to high-speed broadband internet for the first time.
Since the program’s launch in March 2016, 2.3 million homes, businesses and institutions state-wide have seen internet upgrades with the goal of providing high-speed internet access to 100 percent of New Yorkers by the end of 2018.
“It’s important for any community to have good, reliable internet for a million reasons,” said Caroline Councilmember Irene Weiser. “It’s a necessity for kids getting their homework done, for people to participate in the economy, for their jobs, for running a business.
“In this day and age it’s a necessity for finding news and information about what’s happening in the country and around the world,” she said.
Currently, 40 percent of Caroline properties have DSL or no internet, qualifying them as un-served, if they have internet speeds of less than 25 Mbps, or underserved if the fastest available internet speed is capped at 25 Mbps.
“It’s having a financial impact on some property owners who have been unable to rent properties or get a decent rate for their rental or lower prices when selling their homes because there are pockets of no internet and substandard internet in others,” said Weiser. “If people can’t participate in the kind of communications that are part of every day life, it has an impact on our property valuation and on making Caroline a desirable place to live.”
The area has been struggling to upgrade and expand internet service to rural residents for years. In 2012, Clarity Connect submitted a $2.7 million grant proposal to expand high-speed access to 14 local municipalities, including Caroline, but the state removed Caroline, Enfield and three Cayuga County towns from the grant allocation. Although partial funding was restored or obtained through other sources to include Enfield and parts of Caroline, Clarity’s wireless internet technology proved incompatible with Caroline’s topography; potential building sites for towers could not achieve enough clean lines of sight necessary for the network to effectively reach enough households.
According to Weiser, Spectrum, the company formed by the Time Warner merger with Charter, is supposed to be expanding services to rural communities throughout the state but their ambiguous timeline extends four to six years out.
“We still have 400 households left waiting to be served. A fair number of those households are supposed to be served by Spectrum,” she said. “As part of the merger agreement with the state, they were required to build out their network to something like 145,000 households that didn’t have broadband service in Upstate New York.
“So a significant portion of our un-served area should be covered by Spectrum,” Weiser added, “but we don’t know when that build-out is going to happen.”
Haefele Marketing Manager Jeff Golden explained the difficulty in expanding to rural areas lies in the low population relative to the cost of upgrading and constructing necessary infrastructure in sometimes challenging terrain.
“In most small towns and outlying areas, you don’t really have the kind of population density that you would hope for to see your return when you build,” he said. “So that’s always been the primary driver for not expanding. Caroline specifically has some geographical issues: Small roads, dips and turns, little nooks and crannies, valleys of that sort, that causes some comparative difficulty.”
The Haefele grant will cover all new fiber to home construction.
“We have an existing coaxial cable system in Speedsville in the Town of Caroline,” Golden said, “so most of our construction in this grant will be expanding out from there. We’ll be constructing new fiber optic wiring along the road and then running that fiber directly into homes.”
Haefele does not have an established timeline for the construction, other than the state requirement that all work be completed by the end of 2018.
Golden said consumers can expect significant speed increases over what is currently available in DSL with anticipated packages ranging from 25 Mbps all the way up to 100 Mbps, in addition to the telephone and cable TV services Haefele offers.
“Broadband is effectively a necessity at this point, for most households, whether for a job, recreation or certainly for their kid’s education,” he said. “We’re having conversations now with school districts about how to extend services to students who have homework that requires quality internet access. This is a way to get that in front of the most possible people.”