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N.Y. Counties to Utilize ARP Funds for Rural Broadband

Niagara and Orleans counties in New York will both take advantage of American Rescue Plan funding to bring broadband to rural homes within their borders. A wireless provider will be working with the counties.

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(TNS) — Niagara and Orleans counties are preparing to expand access to the Internet, particularly in unserved and underserved rural communities, with the help of funding from the American Rescue Plan.

The Niagara County Legislature has approved spending $4.28 million on the project, awarding contracts for the work at its most recent meeting.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D) hailed the action.

“After thousands of rural families in Niagara and Orleans struggled for years to secure broadband service, I was proud to secure the breakthrough funding in the American Rescue Plan needed by the counties to connect them to 21st century broadband,” Schumer said. “I’ll continue to fight for broadband funding until every home and business in New York has access.”

Legislator David Godfrey (R-Burt), who is spearheading the legislature’s broadband expansion efforts, said the county has been working closely with Schumer’s office to secure a variety of funding sources for a broadband buildout.

“We’re working with his office to see how we can get things going,” Godfrey said. “[The funding] is going to come from a number of different sources.”

Godfrey also said the project will advance in two phases. The first will center on building the necessary infrastructure for broadband, and the second phase will focus on connecting the technology to county residents.

RTO Wireless LLC, an Internet supplier that has worked with both counties installing Wi-Fi hotspots, was awarded the contracts in both counties to construct the infrastructure for “a wireless high-speed broadband network.”

Godfrey said that the underserved and outright unserved communities have suffered without broadband — what he considers to be a utility — much like how they would suffer without electric and gas.

“I could not think of a better way to help people recover from the pandemic than to give them the broadband they need,” Godfrey said, noting people could use it for work, school and training.

RTO Wireless LLC will be expanding broadband’s reach into both counties by utilizing towers — 15 in Niagara County — and placing a device on each of them that will correlate with routers on — or in — the homes of residents.

“It’s similar to your phone, but only for broadband,” Godfrey said. “I want to be clear, this is not for TV or cable or phone service. It’s only for broadband.”

Godfrey said the unserved have “no options,” something he’s wanted to change for years. He also noted that Spectrum, a cable and Internet provider, is creating a class of underserved residents.

“Underserved is people who only have a single choice for a vendor,” he said. “That’s a concern we’ve had as Spectrum is building out. They’re scalping people ... We’re looking to bring a vendor in and compete with Spectrum.”

RTO’s services can be bought by residents, Godfrey said, and much like Spectrum, there are different speeds of broadband that will be offered.

Niagara County issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the project in June and received four bids in July. Godfrey said some of the bids were reasonable, but other proposals were far too costly.

Wraithtek, Inc., according to the resolution in the Niagara County Legislature, offered their services at the price of over $89 million.

The four bidders were similar in that they all offered broadband service through either towers or fibers-optics, or a combination of each, Godfrey said.

“The RFPs stated, very simply, we are looking for an Internet service provider to provide Internet access to every address across the county,” he said. “Underserved and unserved.”

©2021 Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.