Options offered to boost Internet access

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Johnnie Rucker of Clovis, N.M., uses his laptop Wednesday afternoon inside the Blue Frog Coffeehouse in the Marketplace Mall. Rucker, who is visiting relatives in the area, was walking along Main Street and  discovered that he could complete some business on his computer because the coffeehouse has wireless Internet service. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is proposing several incentives to improve Internet service in the state, including rural areas that have few, if any, options for accessing the Internet. 

Staff Reporter

Compared to other rural counties, Cortland County is slightly above average with regard to information technology in a state that is slightly below the national average.
According to Federal Communications Commission data, New York state ranks 31st out of 50 states in the percentage of households with an Internet connection.
During a conference call Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) acknowledged that while 2.8 million homes in the state are connected to high-speed Internet networks, including wireless Internet technologies, most of the development of these services has occurred in New York City and on Long Island.
Although Schumer said that most rural upstate counties have fewer than three high-speed Internet providers, Cortland County has four.
A telecommunications study conducted in 2003 by the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board found that the major regional fiber optic cables that supply the bandwidth for high-speed Internet connections only serviced a handful of municipalities in the county — the city of Cortland, the towns of Cortlandville, Virgil and Preble, the villages and towns of Homer and Marathon, and the village of McGraw.
Rural frustration
Taylor Town Supervisor David Fuller was downloading his e-mail during a phone interview Wednesday using a dial-up connection, and said that it could take up to 20 minutes, as opposed to just a few minutes on a high-speed connection at his workplace in Dryden.
“It gets frustrating out here — We’d like to see some growth and expand as a bedroom community, but it’s kind of hard to encourage people to move … if you’re coming out of New Jersey or New York City or Long Island, and all they have up here is dial-up.”
Fuller said that Taylor is serviced by Frontier over the phone lines, but the cost is very high.
“I negotiated the new cable contract with Time Warner cable, and they wouldn’t even come up the valley. We’ve got 37 families in Taylor Valley,” Fuller said, adding that the company would have to extend the cable from Cincinnatus, which he estimated to be seven or eight miles. It was unclear if Fuller was referring to a fiber-optics cable that wasn’t included in the 2003 telecommunications study, and representatives from Time Warner Cable weren’t available for comment this morning.
“It’s one of the things you give up when you move out into the country, and if you’re not willing to give it up, you shouldn’t be up here,” he said.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp., said that within the last five years, a lot of the federal money that was being used to fund these infrastructure improvements seems to have dried up.
Legislation proposed
A bill that would help lessen the impact of these expenditures passed the Senate Finance Committee last week, Schumer said. The Broadband Tax Enhancement Act, co-sponsored by Schumer, would permit individuals and businesses to deduct costs associated with the installation and connection of broadband and wireless networks from their taxable incomes.
“They would have to make it a hell of an incentive to put this fiber optic cable through here,” Fuller said of the bill.
Schumer also said that he would offer an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill that would increase funding for the Rural Development Broadband Loan and Loan Guarantee Program by $50 million.
“We think the gain in new businesses that pay taxes would pay for itself,” Schumer said, estimating that the money from the appropriations bill could be available by October, if the amendment passes.
“I think for small rural communities in Central New York to be competitive in the world community, they need that access,” Hartsock said. “A lot of folks moving here from Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, transporting successful careers — they come through our offices all the time, and they need the bandwidth.”
Both Hartsock and Schumer believe that wireless technology might be the most cost-effective way to expand high-speed networks, and Schumer said in a letter to Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez that the Commerce Department needs to establish recommended guidelines for communities that want to pursue establishing community-wide wireless networks.
Local options
Mayor Tom Gallagher and Hartsock both said the idea of turning downtown Cortland into a wireless community has been discussed before, but has not been pursued.
According to Schumer’s office, Cortland currently has three wireless Internet-access “hot spots,” which are defined as any public places, such as chain restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels, that offer the service, often for a fee.
SUNY Cortland has wireless Internet access across most of the campus, said George VerDow, director of classroom media services.
Karina Murphy, the owner of the Blue Frog Coffee House in the Marketplace Mall on Main Street, said that she had installed Wi-Fi in June.
“Believe it or not, it kind of exceeded what I expected because … the students are gone. Right now, we only ask people who are customers to use the wireless, but come fall we’ll probably start charging a fee. We’ve had people just walking in off the street, and I think they do come in expecting a fee,” Murphy said, adding that many people expect coffee shops to offer Internet access.
The entertainment store Area 51 on Main Street also charges for the use of its wireless access, said employee Joe Abdallah, who installed the network.
Jim Jackson of Cortland, who is a mason by trade but is trying to get into the information technology sector, said he invested $1,600 installing the wireless service and a laptop computer at the Blue Frog. Murphy said that she would reimburse him when they begin charging for access as the students return.
Jackson said that he hopes to get up to four or five businesses downtown hooked up with a wireless network, which could blanket much of Main Street with a “hot spot,” but the project is still in the planning stages.
“Right now, the only thing I’m working with is the Blue Frog,” Jackson said Wednesday. “I’m trying to do a little work over at Lucky’s. I’m going to try to get most of the bars in Cortland.”
Jackson is drawing up a proposal to distribute to Main Street businesses.



Decision on biodiesel plant may come Friday

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — With officials from SUNY Morrisville and investors for a planned biodiesel fuel plant hoping to make a decision on the location Friday, local officials and business leaders are scrambling to ensure the plant winds up in Cortland County.
The county has proposed two more potential sites for SUNY Morrisville to consider — a 26-acre plot on the city’s south side and 10 acres of land in Polkville — and town and village officials in Homer are working to make the former Homer Oil building a more attractive option.
“This has become a high-profile project, but it’s really a great project that really benefits the agricultural community, involves renewable energy and brings jobs to the area,” said Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp. “You can see why the community wants to get behind it.”
The 26-acre Noss Industrial Park site is along Valley View Drive, just north of Cortland High School. It once housed the Rosen Brothers Scrap Yard and the Wickwire Bros. factory.
The property has been offered by the city of Cortland as a potential site for the plant, Hartsock said.
The city, which owns the property, is interested in leasing it long term in order to get it back on the tax rolls, Hartsock said. The company would pay full taxes on the building, she said.
“That property has definitely been added to the list,” said SUNY Morrisville President Ray Cross. “We’re looking very carefully at Cortland County. We think it’s an attractive area.”
The county also has come up with an eleventh-hour proposal of a 10-acre property in the hamlet of Polkville, next to the Suit-Kote rail facility near CNY Power Sports, Hartsock said.





Judge declares election plans

Staff Reporter

Acting Supreme Court Justice Dennis McDermott visited Cortland County Wednesday to officially kick off his candidacy for a full 14-year term in the position.
McDermott, a Republican from Madison County, is running against Democrat Elizabeth Garry of Chenango County in a race that will encompass the 10 counties that are a part of the Sixth Judicial District, including Cortland, Broome and Tompkins.
Touting 30 years of broad-based legal experience that includes work in family, real estate, municipal, criminal and business law, along with five years as a Madison County Court Judge, McDermott said he was well equipped to make the step up to state Supreme Court.
“Unfortunately, this race has to be fought in the political arena, but it’s not going to be about politics,” McDermott said, noting that a judge takes an oath not to be swayed by political affiliations. “It’s going to be about competence and experience.”
McDermott took on the role of  acting Supreme Court justice after Judge William O’Brien, also of Madison County, retired in January.
Before serving as a county judge, McDermott was Sherrill city attorney for 15 years, and has been a member of Sixth Judicial District committees ,including a committee on gender fairness and a committee on professional standards, of which he served one year as chairman.
McDermott’s presumed opponent, Garry — neither candidate has officially been nominated by their party’s judicial conventions, but both are running unopposed — has served as town justice for New Berlin in Chenango County for the past five years, and has worked for the past 12 years with the Joyce Law Firm, focusing mainly on civil jury trials in state Supreme Court.