(TNS) — WHITESVILLE, N.Y. — Whitesville Wood Products may be a small business in a rural town, but it exports around the globe.
Eighty percent of the lumber processed at the Whitesville facility makes its way to Asia, feeding hungry markets in Vietnam and China. Competition in the global market is fierce, with every advantage or shortcoming impacting the bottom line. High-speed internet isn't a luxury, it's a must. That hasn't always been an option for homes and businesses in the area, though.
Whitesville Wood Products and the rest of the town were connected to the wider world Thursday, receiving the region's first new hook-up in the New NY Broadband Program.
"This is absolutely huge," said Whitesville Wood Products manager William Meunier. "That's how we correspond with the Chinese. Because of the time difference, phone calls are almost impossible. The internet makes it simple. Every month probably 25 containers of lumber go to China."
The Whitesville Fire Hall had the distinction of going online first, connected with a Fiber to the Home install from Armstrong Telecommunications, which has offices in nearby Addison. Governor Cuomo established the $500 million New NY Broadband Program in 2015. The program supports projects that deliver high-speed internet access to unserved and underserved areas of the state.
Armstrong hosted a celebration at the Whitesville Fire Hall Thursday afternoon, with company officials, Whitesville elected officials and community members, plus several legislators from Allegany and Steuben County in attendance. The ceremony marked the lighting of Armstrong's first Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) in connection with the broadband program.
"It's no less than a transformational technology," said Armstrong Vice President Shawn Beqaj. "The wood mill here deals with China on a daily basis. They can't communicate with China because the Chinese buyers that buy their lumber need to get pictures of that lumber over the internet. With a DSL modem that is virtually impossible. It could take hours to send one image. This will send virtually limitless data on demand."
Whitesville town supervisor Jeri Reichman praised the program.
"On behalf of the town board and the residents of Whitesville, we're just thrilled," she said. "Thank you for bringing us into the 21st Century, and for all the support you've given this little town over the years."
Given the ubiquity of technology in everyday life, high-speed internet is pivotal for quality of life in rural areas, not to mention its necessity for rural business.
"It's transformational to business, it's transformational to a student that wants to take classes remotely," Beqaj said. "If you think about how the internet impacts people's lives today, it is no longer a luxury, it is no longer an elective service. You can buy your groceries online, take classes online, get your kid's grades online, do your banking online, get your entertainment. It touches every part of your life. If you don't have reliable, efficient internet service, you are on the wrong side of the digital divide. With this project, the governor's office has helped us bring 25,000 people to the right side of the digital divide."
Whitesville is just the beginning for the New NY Broadband Program in the area. Next, Armstrong will swing back through southwestern Steuben County in areas like Jasper, Troupsburg and Greenwood, looping around into parts of eastern Allegany County. The project will also cover rural areas in northern Allegany County along with southern Livingston and Wyoming County, swinging over into Cattaraugus County to the west.
And that's just one phase. Construction of the network is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Armstrong currently has about 100 people in the field, a number that's poised to grow.
The program comes with an added boost for Allegany County, which is receiving 10 jobs based in Belfast, plus a revitalized piece of downtown real estate.
"We're building a tech center in Belfast as part of this," Beqaj said. "There will be 10 people working there. Tiny little Belfast, New York will have 10 high-tech jobs as part of this project. We purchased an old truck repair facility and we're building a tech center there."
The program is part of Cuomo's "Broadband for All" push, which aims to bring high-speed internet access to all corners of the state. Companies like Armstrong bid on broadband expansion projects, with the state prioritizing bidders seeking the lowest amount of state investment per new location served.
Beqaj lauded Albany for its leadership and foresight in pushing the program.
"This wouldn't have happened without the participation of the governor's office," he said. "Without it there are 30,000 people or so who wouldn't have internet. The benefit to the state is increased revenue, increased pricing of homes, the ability for these areas to now be part of a vacation community. There are customers who won't stay at hotels because they don't have reliable internet.
"Infrastructure is always a wise use of money. The governor's office should be applauded. In 20 years, this is the only state or federal program that Armstrong has ever participated in. They're usually flawed. The governor's program is spot-on perfect."
©2018 The Evening Tribune, Hornell, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.