FCC Reviewing New York County Broadband Initiative as Potential Model

The FCC is reviewing a broadband initiative in Ontario County, N.Y., as a potential model for the National Broadband Plan.

by / May 4, 2010

Photo: Edward E. Hemminger, CIO, Ontario County, N.Y./Photo by Michael Okoniewski

Government executives who are curious about the specific projects that are likely to result from the FCC's National Broadband Plan might want to study Axcess Ontario, the county-established nonprofit deploying a fiber network in Ontario County, N.Y.

County officials met with the FCC Tuesday, May 4, to explain their broadband strategy. The program, much of which is already implemented, focuses on snaking a 180-mile fiber backhaul throughout all municipalities in Ontario County. Any service provider will be free to extend its network equipment from the backhaul to provide services to homes and businesses.

Unlike numerous similar attempts in other parts of the country, Ontario County funded its network without dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Those who created Axcess Ontario were insistent the project shouldn't rely on the availability of outside funding, according to Edward Hemminger, CIO of Ontario County.

The network's startup costs were $7.5 million, which the municipality generated through the Ontario County Office of Economic Development/Industrial Development Agency. The organization is a quasi-government agency created by the state to generate economic activity. Businesses pay the agency for various services, the revenue from which pays for initiatives like Axcess Ontario.

"This has a fully sustainable economic plan, which will ensure that it does not require any taxpayer funds to continue the operation," Hemminger said.

The payback on the county's investment will be spread over 25 years. This long-term return on investment plan enables Axcess Ontario to charge providers inexpensive rates for using the fiber. Hemminger said this advantage made providing connectivity to underserved areas more affordable than doing so for private companies.

"That's why we can go into much more rural areas than typical carriers would be," Hemminger said. "The barrier for a typical telephone company is the return on investment to shareholders. They can't create a 25-year return on investment. It doesn't make any sense for them."

In keeping with Axcess Ontario's desire to avoid competing against private industry, private companies hold most of the seats on the organization's board and are largely responsible for its direction. Executives from Ontario County hold two of the seats.

The county started planning how to implement Axcess Ontario in 2001 when businesses began threatening to leave the area because of poor broadband access. With 107 miles of the network already deployed, five new companies have relocated to Ontario County, partially due to Axcess Ontario, according to Hemminger.

The nonprofit has no employees. All work done for the organization is on a contract basis. Axcess Ontario expects to finish deploying fiber by December 2010.

The FCC's invitation likely came from a publicity event featuring New York Sen. Charles Schumer that highlighted the program, Hemminger said. He remarked that the county's Tuesday meeting with the FCC was promising.

"Their team asked a lot of great questions, which told us that they were engaged, that they understood what we were talking about, and I think, overall, they were very encouraged by the model and very interested to hear more about it," said Joe Starks, president of ECC Technologies, a consulting firm contracted by Axcess Ontario.


Andy Opsahl

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.

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