Niagara, Orleans Counties Left Out of New York State Broadband Funds

Despite $500 million in state funding going to broadband programs in neighboring rural counties, underserved residents will see a push to expand broadband access on the part of private companies.

by Tim Fenster, Lockport Union-Sun & Journal / February 2, 2018
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(TNS) — The New York State Broadband Program on Thursday announced the final round of funding for broadband expansion. The total investment is $341.8 million — and none of that funding went to vendors seeking to expand internet service in Niagara or Orleans counties.

Thus far, none of the program's $500 million has gone toward expanding broadband in the neighboring rural counties.

However, those unserved residents are not being left out of the state's push to expand broadband internet.

In 2016, the state Public Service Commission required Spectrum Internet— formed by the Time Warner Cable-Charter Communications merger — to significantly boost internet speeds upstate and also expand broadband service to 145,000 residential units that currently don’t have it. In Niagara and Orleans counties, Spectrum pledged to expand broadband to 95 percent of residential units.

Spectrum says its build-out is ahead of schedule, as it expanded broadband service to more than 42,000 homes and businesses between January 2016 and mid-December 2017, exceeding its commitment by 6,000.

In a Jan. 8 report to the Public Service Commission, Spectrum says it has expanded broadband to 669 users in Niagara County, and states those are focused in the "City of Niagara" (sic) and towns of Wheatfield, Lewiston and Pendleton.

“Updates from Spectrum show they were ahead of the FCC requirements for the buildout, but we find in most cases those are in metropolitan areas where they just expanded," Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey, R-Burt, said.

Before the buildout, more than 4,000 households across the two counties were identified as unserved. After Spectrum's buildout is complete, about 1,000 households in the counties may still lack high-speed Internet, including swaths of the towns of Lockport, Lewiston, Wilson, Somerset, Hartland and Royalton.

Those households may be the hardest to reach, because it's often not profitable to build miles of optic cable to reach only a few properties.

The answer, Godfrey said, is to utilize existing infrastructure to offer wireless internet.

“We've always looked at the last mile as a fixed wireless solution," Godfrey said.

Godfrey added he is hopeful that wireless vendors will be attracted by recent federal initiatives, including proposed legislation that would direct creation of a federal registry for communication infrastructure and a $170 million allocation for upstate broadband expansion through the Federal Communication Commission's Connect America Fund.

©2018 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.