Grant to help expand broadband

Greg Klein | The Daily StarThe offices of Otsego Electric Cooperative and OEConnect are shown in this Feb. 22 photo.

A local utility company announced last week that it will be making another expansion to its rural broadband internet services, thanks to a $7.4 million federal grant.

Otsego Electric Cooperative announced Friday, Feb. 19, that its OEConnect service had gotten a funding commitment from the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund. The grant will provide $7.4 million to expand existing infrastructure farther into unserved and underserved locations in Otsego, Herkimer and Madison counties.

“We are very excited to be able to bring this level of service to more of our neighbors,” OEC CEO Tim Johnson said in a media release. “Fast and reliable internet is just as important to rural residents as electricity was when Otsego Electric Cooperative and the other rural electric cooperatives in the nation brought service to these same hard-to-reach areas over 75 years ago.”

In a follow-up interview with The Daily Star on Monday, Feb. 22, Johnson said the money would allow the company to extend its network of broadband fiber-optic lines about 100 more miles, leading to 500 or 600 new households with service. 

“This is very good news,” Johnson said. “It does help. Every little bit helps.” 

Johnson said the service is earmarked for certain households and OEC must follow federal guidelines about where to run its lines and offer its services. 

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot leeway,” he said. “The condition of getting this federal funding is that we stick to the census blocks. We have funding to build in 23 census blocks locally. There are a lot of areas where we will be doing this work.”

OEC has about 4,000 members for its electric services, Johnson said, providing energy through about 4,900 meters. More than half of those homes also get their internet services from OEConnect, he said.

The company had offered satellite internet services in the past, but it wasn’t as reliable as the fiber-optic based internet, which OEConnect began connecting to its customer’s homes in 2018, Johnson said.

Last month, OEConnect announced it had connected its 2,500th household to the broadband service. 

“Now, we’re at abut 2,700,” Johnson said Monday.  

Johnson said he expects more funding for the project over the next year, from the FCC and perhaps from a federal conronavirus pandemic stimulus.

“We’ll continue to look for better sources of funding to help people where we can,” he said. “We already have the backbone in place. We’ll continue to build on this.” 

For more information, contact OEConnect at info@otsegoec.coop, at www.oeconnect.coop, or by calling 607-293-6622.

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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