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Will Faster Broadband Speeds Entice Residents to the Countryside?

New York legislators sure hope so, and a feasibility study will look at how to best deliver broadband to rural areas in an attempt to lure families.

(TNS) -- Franklin County, N.Y., is exploring innovative ways to bring broadband service to rural residents that could inspire similar regions nationwide to do the same.

Legislators are sure more people would move here, invest in the area and stay here if reliable Internet access were available in their most-telecommunication-challenged communities.

The county was recently awarded a $38,000 grant for a feasibility study that Slic Networks will perform as part of U.S. Department of Agriculture Program funding, concentrating on the towns of Duane, Franklin, Harrietstown and Brighton.

Company President Phil Wagschal said the study will look at population densities and the impact of seasonal residents on such a system. It will also outline the costs and logistics of bringing Internet service to underserved areas.

He said that if success comes in setting up a system in the face of the geographical challenges here, it could be a business model for other rural communities that could seek part of the available $1 billion, too.

Data Gathering

Legislator Barbara Rice (D-Saranac Lake) said surveys revealed that residents were very interested having broadband available, “and that’s how this all grew.

“We have to be more progressive,” she said, “and the idea of a co-op is unique and innovative.

“This could be a real good poster child for how broadband can be done in a different manner,” Rice said. “We’ll position ourselves well. We’re ahead of the curve, and this might work in other parts of the country.

"If you can do it in Duane, you can do it anywhere in the world."

Wagschal said the in-depth data gathering should take about a year, and he is expected to provide legislators with quarterly updates on the progress.

The push to connect rural areas is based on a $1 billion investment the state and federal governments are touting as an economic-development tool.

Users would create a cooperative and be the system owners, paying a flat rate for Internet service and another fee dedicated to equipment purchase, upkeep and staffing.

Seasonal Option

Wagschal said options on how seasonal customers would pay are still unresolved, but they could be charged the infrastructure-upkeep fee all year but service fees just a few months while here.

Slic has customers in Bangor, Dickinson, Brandon and part of Malone, and it assessed the needs in the towns of Fort Covington and Franklin to measure interest.

But the main concentration will be in and around the Adirondacks, where little broadband service is available.

The feasibility study could also reveal that it would be just too expensive to bring service to certain portions of a town because there are so few homes and so few people to share the cost, he said.

©2015 the Press-Republican (Plattsburgh, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.