New Broadband Plan For County Takes Shape
By JIM KEVLIN • HOMETOWN ONEONTA
A three-person team from FARR Technologies of Sioux Falls, S.D., spent three days in Otsego County last week, tightening a schematic for achieving broadband Internet service countywide within five years.
FARR’s mandate is to provide, by mid-October, “information we need to aggressively apply for state and federal funding,” said Sandy Mathes, Otsego County IDA president. He plans to ask the IDA board to approve funding applications when it meets Oct. 2.
The team – FARR CEO Peter Rassmusson, Vice President/Network Design Jerry Weber, and Steve Angerhofer, a partner in the company – arrived Tuesday the 16th and spent Wednesday meeting with county reps, municipal, school and chamber officials, and regular citizens.
“There was nobody saying, ‘Why are you doing this?’ There was unanimous support that you need it and probably needed it 10 years ago,” said Rassmusson, who went into consulting on broadband networks after selling the family telephone business that operated in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. The broadband is quite poor in some areas, leaving residents searching for the best broadband deals elsewhere but now that’s soon to change and everyone will have good access to broadband.
Since winning the IDA contract in August, the FARR team had compiled Federal Communications Commission, GIS and other data to map out a prospective broad-band system, Rassmusson said.
One goal is “running fiber to our Main Streets,” said Mathes, fiber being more dependable and able to transmit larger amounts of data. But points on the FARR map also identified tower sites necessary to provide “last mile” wireless service to rural areas, Rassmusson said.
As of now, many people are on other options to get a connection, which leads to many questions. Can you game on satellite internet? Is it sustainable? These are but two of the ones that arise time and time again. Many people are happy with the option, but others are welcome to having choices in the region.
The Thursday of their visit, Weber and Angerhofer visited the prospective tower sites to ensure no physical objects, distance from roads or other factors would rule out the tower sites.
In July 2013, the county IDA had contracted with Comp Direct USA to provide wireless broadband countywide. This year, realizing that fiber would be required, Comp Direct withdrew and the IDA returned $500,000 to Connect NY, the state entity formed to extend broadband to rural areas.
“We’ve been assured (by Connect NY) that our next application will be well received,” said Mathes. “The overall solution is well in excess of $25-30 million. But with a plan, with a strategy, with credibility, the funding agencies will be aggressive.”
Since providing broadband to rural areas is “a national priority,” he continued, a range of federal and state funding is available. The IDA will be working with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, but “we anticipate working with Schumer and Gibson as well,” he said.
“Funding is obviously a key component,” said Rassmusson, whose contract is for the preliminary work – the map and the strategy; another contractor will build the system and run it. “You need to have the study in place, so that as the funding opportunities present themselves, you’re ready to go.”