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N.Y. County, Private Sector Partner to Reel in State Broadband Funding

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $500 million broadband initiative hoping to close the digital divide between metropolitan and rural New Yorkers, and Otsego County intends to cash in.

(TNS) -- Otsego County officials say they're optimistic that their alliance with Middleburgh Telephone Co. in Schoharie County will help them reel in millions of dollars in state grants to tackle the biggest economic development need — a connection to broadband services.

"Things are looking very promising," said Rep. Craig Gelbsman, R-Oneonta, a local businessman who has helped to shepherd the effort along with Alexander "Sandy" Mathes, the chief executive officer of Otsego Now, and MidTel president James Becker.

To connect all regions of the county to broadband would take an estimated $33 million, officials said.

Local officials are hoping the county can reel in approximately $24 million from Gov. Andrw Cuomo's $500 million broadband initiative.

Cuomo pledged earlier this year that all of New York will have access to Internet broadband by the end of 2018. His grant program, however, has already been delayed twice, local officials said, though applications for the state aid are expected to be welcomed in early 2016.

"We're ready to go," said Mathes, noting the county's broadband needs have already been assessed and conversations have begun on what components would go into an application.

Becker, when contacted by The Daily Star, said the county's partnership with Otsego Electric Cooperative and MidTel in Schoharie Country should make for a compelling presentation for state officials to consider when they decide how to dole out the funding.

"I think it fits the demographic of what they are looking for really well," said Becker, MidTel's president and the recipient of the 2015 Extraordinary Broadband Leadership Award from the New York Broadband Summit. "In the past the broadband office has used this as a model. So it gives me high hopes."

Gelbsman said having robust broadband offerings throughout the county can be a critical difference in attracting people to buy real estate, and will help businesses and farmers who are at a competitive disadvantage when broadband is lacking.

"I think it absolutely affects real estate values," Gelbsman said.

Mathes said lining up state support for broadband is the "top priority" of the county's industrial development agency.

"I hope to hit it out of the park with the quality of our application," he said. "We're just waiting for the funding opportunity. I hope it is shortly after the new year."

According to state estimates, more than 12,000 Otsego County residents — about a fifth of the population — lack access to broadband at download speeds of 6 megabits per second, considered the minimum needed for today's video-rich online environment but lacking when multiple users are sharing a service.

A full 100 percent of residents of Otsego and Schoharie counties lack access to broadband at speeds of 100 megabits per second, while an estimated 90 percent of Delaware County residents have no access to services offering the rapid downloading capability.

©2015 The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.