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Broome County moves forward with plan to connect underserved areas with broadband

Broadband Connect - Web

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Broome County is working to expand high-speed internet access to underserved areas. Last month, the county received a grant for $50,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). ARC is a government agency investing in economic development from the Southern Tier to Alabama.

The grant is part of a larger initiative called Project Connect, meant to bring fiber-optic internet to all of the Southern Tier. It’s especially needed in rural areas, which often lack reliable service.

Jen Gregory is the executive director ofSouthern Tier 8, the regional economic development board behind the initiative. Gregory said basic infrastructure can be a challenge to expanding broadband access, especially in rural areas.

Fiber-optic cables are often hung on telephone poles. Engineers need to map out routes along these poles, often working around mountains, woods, and rivers. And many internet providers don’t want to spend the money to service customers who are few and far between.

“It’s very expensive infrastructure. A lot of folks will say ‘you know, why don’t you just roll it out like you did electricity?’ Because 150 years ago, you didn’t have private interests and stockholders involved,” Gregory said.

That’s part of the reason for Project Connect, an ambitious plan to build municipally owned, “middle mile open access infrastructure” across the region.

“What it would do is build a highway network through each small community, or large, and then individual service providers could tap into that network. So they didn’t have to run the fiber from Binghamton all the way up to Norwich,” Gregory said.

Gregory knows it will take more than one $50,000 grant. For years, she’s been connecting the dots.

“400,000 dollars here, 100,000 dollars, a million there. Piece by piece to build out this infrastructure, Gregory said.

The grant funding will be used to plan a route of fiber cables through Endicott, Binghamton and Johnson City. Even though they aren’t rural, parts of the triple cities still don’t have reliable access.

With the potential for more federal funding on the horizon, New York’s Broadband Assessment Program is determining areas of need across the state. Gregory said residents should fill out the state’s survey, especially if they don’t have reliable internet access.