ARRA Grant Brings Broadband to Rural Upstate New York

An ARRA investment is bringing 660 miles of fiber optic cable to St. Lawrence County, N.Y.


People across St. Lawrence County, N.Y., who have struggled with limited Internet service for years have the use of broadband connections thanks to 660 miles of fiber optic cable constructed in St. Lawrence County last year.

Slic Network Solutions, Nicholville, is currently in the installation phase of its $33 million broadband deployment project, which started in 2011. The project was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

So far, the company is serving more than 3,100 customers in the towns of Louisville, Norfolk, Stockholm, Hopkinton, Parishville, Waddington, Madrid, Potsdam, Lisbon, Canton, Pierrepont, Clare, Oswegatchie, Fine, Clifton and Piercefield in St. Lawrence County and 450 in the Franklin County towns of Dickinson, Moira, Brandon, Bangor, Malone and Waverly.

“We’re still adding customers, and the installation cost for customers is still being covered by the grant,” Slic Network Solutions President Philip J. Wagschal said Monday.

The two grants the company received, one for $5.2 million and one for $27 million, came from the Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of its Broadband Initiative Program.

Mr. Wagschal said the company included free installation in its grant application, and there is still money left for about 1,000 installations in St. Lawrence County.

“The intent of the grant is that we serve the unserved,” he said. “Access to broadband is much like access to electricity or water. Whether it’s a farmer or someone who wants to live in a rural area, there’s the idea of not being able to be connected in those areas that really discourages people from buying homes or settling in those areas.”

Mr. Wagschal said a broadband connection is critical for public schools, people looking to earn an online degree and businesses in rural areas.

“It’s about leveling the playing field to those areas from an economic development standpoint and from a quality-of-life perspective,” he said.

Mr. Wagschal said that Star Lake, Fine, Wanakena and Cranberry Lake are areas where service expansion has had a major impact.

“They basically had no broadband, cable or DSL,” he said. “Their service has changed dramatically because they were very used to satellite.”

Mr. Wagschal said the broadband service Slic provides is not necessarily community-based, because the company serves several individual homes in rural areas that are not directly associated with a certain community.

Mr. Wagschal said Slic is looking for more subscribers, and recently hired a commercial sales employee to reach out to businesses, since installations have mostly been residential.

Mr. Wagschal said Slic has asked customers from Star Lake, Fine, Cranberry Lake and Wanakena to complete an online survey conducted by the St. Lawrence County Government Information Technology Committee, Paul Smith’s College and Clarkson University to measure the economic impact that broadband Internet access has on those areas.

“We’re a local company investing locally,” he said. “We’re just trying to see what the impact was on local residents.”

According to Mr. Wagschal, the survey response has not been what officials had hoped.

©2014 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)