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Broadband Survey Maps Upstate New York Broadband Future

Despite recent attempts by the state to bring broadband high-speed Internet service to every household, there are still pockets of Lewis County, N.Y., with no access or slow, unreliable service.

by Julie Abbass, Watertown Daily Times / November 9, 2020
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(TNS) — Despite attempts by the state to bring broadband high speed internet service to every household in the county, there are still pockets of the county with no access or slow, unreliable service.

As a result, the Lewis County Legislature has joined forces with the Development Authority of the North Country to launch a new effort to figure out exactly who has what and, in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, who needs what.

A survey about internet availability and satisfaction is now live on the Lewis County website for all county residents, organizations and businesses.

Participants are also given the opportunity to test the speed of their internet with a "click." The service checks both upload and download speeds and, combined with the answers to the survey itself, will help determine if the speeds currently available are sufficient.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused schooling and work to be done from home, the inadequacies of broadband speeds through some providers became apparent when they were not fast enough to allow uninterrupted classroom or work sessions and highlighted the disadvantage placed on those without any broadband options.

The project, initiated by the Authority's Board of Directors according to the Aug. 27 resolution approving the project, is two-pronged: the first is to compile a list of all "terrestrial broadband" infrastructure.

According to the survey itself, "The second step in our survey is to understand how you utilize, or would like to utilize, broadband capabilities in your home or business."

Under normal circumstances, people without internet are encouraged to go to their local libraries to do the online survey, and survey outreach workers would go door-to-door near the end of the project period to try to reach every household in the county.

Health concerns have limited those possibilities, according to Laurie Marr, Director of Communications for the Authority, but they are working on a number of outreach options that respect health protocols.

Lewis County Economic Development is helping with outreach to local businesses, and the county planning department will be taking calls to answer questions and help in any way they can.

"I can help people fill out their surveys over the phone, put in their information for them, or I can send them a hard copy of the survey with envelopes so they can send it back. We're willing to go above and beyond just to make sure that the surveys are filled out," said Planning Director Casandra Buell.

The information from both project prongs will be compiled and mapped.

The Authority owns and operates a telecommunications network providing high-speed, fiber optic internet to municipalities, businesses, hospitals and schools throughout the tri-county area and will use the information gathered through this project to expand that network and apply for grants, Ms. Marr said.

The company contracted to perform the work, Penfield-based ECC Technologies, also worked with the Authority to help create its telecommunications network.

Although the project is intended and approved for Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, too, Lewis County is the first to accept the partnership.

"It's absolutely critical for every resident and business in Lewis County to complete a survey," said Lewis County Manager  Ryan Piche  in a statement. "That is the only way we will be able to accurately map broadband availability in our county. We have lots of anecdotal evidence, but we need hard data in order to obtain the funding and support we need to correct this problem, which hits rural areas like ours particularly hard."

Mr. Piche also noted reliable high speed internet is essential to attract "those people seeking a more rural lifestyle who need to telecommute to their jobs" due to the pandemic.

The total cost of the project is $62,000 to be shared between the county and the development authority. Lewis County legislators approved the county's $31,000 expenditure in their September board meeting.

The survey will continue for the next two months, Ms. Marr said, and volunteers interested in helping reach others in the community can sign up during the survey.

Generally, survey participants are not required to identify themselves, however exact addresses are required for the mapping to be effective.

(c)2020 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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