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December 19, 2009

 

Grant to expand Internet access

$39.7M federal grant to provide service in rural areas of state

GrantBob Ellis/staff photographer
Rep. Michael Arcuri, center, and SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum, right, look on as U.S. Deputy Commerce Secretary Dennis Hightower announces a $39.7 million grant for the development of broadband in rural areas. The commerce secretary made the announcement Friday afternoon at the Beard Building on Main Street in Cortland.

By SCOTT CONROE
Staff Reporter
sconroe@cortlandstandard.net

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced a $39.7 million grant Friday in downtown Cortland, saying it will be used to expand broadband Internet access to rural areas that desperately need it.
SUNY Cortland hosted the announcement by Deputy Commerce Secretary Dennis Hightower and Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-Utica) at the Beard Building, 10 Main St.
The money will come from Recovery Act federal stimulus dollars and will be used to add to a fiber-optic cable system being built in upstate New York and parts of western Vermont and northeast Pennsylvania.
The system will be built by Albany-based ION Hold Co., with assistance from the Development Authority of the North Country, based in Watertown. Thoma Development Consultants of Cortland wrote the grant proposal, and Arcuri chose to announce the grant in Cortland County because of its rural nature and loss of hundreds of jobs in the past two years.
Jim Becker, ION chief executive officer, said he understands the impact that Internet access and computer technology can have on a rural area, since he grew up in Schoharie County.
“I’m the fourth generation of my family in our company, and I’ve seen first-hand the challenges of bringing technology to rural areas,” Becker said. He added that his family company in Middleburgh, which grew into ION, paid $8,000 per month for nine megabites of computer access before 2005, when it changed to 100 megabites for $5,000 per month — and grew.
Next to him at a roundtable discussion with Cortland County leaders, Tom Sauter, deputy director of DANC, said a paper company in Newton Falls, a hamlet on the edge of the Adirondacks, reopened 18 months ago after being closed for several years but then struggled to fill orders because it lacked computer connection to the world beyond the mountains.
President Obama has made job creation a priority, Hightower said, and that can start with the system that ION will lay in the next two years.
Hightower said the system will reach 250,000 households and 38,000 businesses in areas that do not have Internet access. It will connect schools, colleges and hospitals.
He and everyone involved believe this will lead to economic growth, as existing businesses grow and new ones start.
Sauter cited the Newton Falls Paper Co. as an example of what computer technology can do in a remote area. He said the service provided by the new system will offer nine times the telecommunications capacity for the paper mill, at the same cost as now. He said a second phase will connect 50 nearby houses to the system.
Sauter said the New York Ranger School at Wanakena, also in the Adirondacks, built a computer conferencing center but cannot use it because the area does not have the Internet capacity.
“People in these remote areas want Internet connection,” he said.
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) said she regularly is asked by small business owners when they will have less expensive access to broadband, when they have to use dial-up access right now.
Susan Feiszli, Cortland mayor-elect, said she can connect easier with her family’s exchange student in Europe than with her mother 20 minutes away.
“I’m excited to see what this will bring,” she said.
Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp. and Industrial Development Authority, told Arcuri the Internet access will help upstate New York compete in the business world.
Larry Spring, Cortland superintendent of schools, said it is amazing that there are schools without computer connection to the world.
“These are kids with the world passing them by,” he said. “This project will level the playing field.”
SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum asked Hightower if the broadband access was for more than just homes. Hightower said yes, in some areas it might allow residents to use computers at libraries, colleges and community centers, if the system could not reach their homes.
Becker said his company places priority on communities that have been asking for Internet access and on building the system to cross water bodies such as rivers.

 

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