Local initiatives by independent utility companies are on track to bring broadband service to homes and businesses in some of the most remote portions of Otsego and Delaware counties by the end of the year.
Construction is backlogged about a month, but the Margaretville Telephone Company is still on track to deliver on its promise of full coverage to all members by the end of the year, according to general manager Glen Faulkner. He attributed the delay to the limited availability of contracted services and resources shared by telecom companies across the country.
In 2014, MTC partnered with the Delaware County Electric Cooperative and the Delhi Telephone Company to form the Delaware County Broadband Initiative. The DCBI committed to extend high-speed broadband internet services to each of the company’s customers, and was awarded $2.9 million in matching state funds through the Southern Tier Economic Development Council, according to Mark Schneider, CEO of the Delaware County Electric Cooperative.
By installing new fiber optic lines parallel to the existing copper infrastructure, the networks will offer a suite of telecommunications services including phone, cable television and high-speed broadband, capable of processing speeds in excess of 100 mpbs upon completion, Schneider said.
“It’s never going to make any money, but this is an investment we think is important to the community,” Schneider said. “The initiative is not the way to optimize profits, but we see a foundational need for viable, sustainable communities in the future.”
The project targets areas in the “rural divide” of high-speed internet availability, Schneider said; areas that were abandoned or historically ignored by national telecom companies.
“The density of our population is so low that building out to every single home would be cost-prohibitive,” Schneider said. “If you want to get over that threshold of earning profit, these aren’t the places you’re going to go.”
Between DCBI and its own independent projects, MTC has taken on 10 projects since 2014, covering the towns of Harpersfield, Jefferson, Conesville, Gilboa, portions of Stamford, Roxbury, Middletown, Andes and Colchester and extending into Greene and Ulster counties, Faulkner said. Upon completion, MTC technicians will have installed 11,000 miles of fiber optic cables and delivered high-speed internet service to nearly 13,000 homes.
The Delhi Telephone Company’s service territory extends from Worcester and Maryland down to Bovina, as far east as Hobart and west to Bainbridge. Construction in Bovina and Kortright was completed within the last two years, according to general manager Jason Miller, and projects in Walton, Sidney, Unadilla, Oneonta, Worcester, Davenport and Maryland are scheduled for completion by the end of the year.
DCBI’s commitment to its customers is what sets the partnering companies apart from their national competitors, Schneider said. Like many utility cooperatives, DCEC is a nonprofit, member-owned organization.
“Cooperatives are 100% invested in the communities they serve,” Schneider said. “There is no money to be made someplace else. This is their whole world, and our partners jumped in with both feet and took on a lot of debt to make this happen.”
DCBI’s partnering organizations have each received additional state grants through the New NY Broadband Program, which is administered by the state’s urban development corporation, Empire State Development.
Telecommunications companies submitted bids for areas designated by the state to receive service, and projects were awarded in a reverse-auction process to the bidder that pledged to serve the area with the least amount of grant funds.
“The companies bid down instead of bid up,” said Otsego Electric Cooperative CEO Tim Johnson. “Nationally, cooperatives are doing better, using their existing poles and infrastructure to build out in sparse areas.”
The distribution of state funds was determined by census block and based on coverage data reported by telecommunications companies to the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC data did identify primary areas that were unserved, and all coverage data is based on the best available estimates of telecom service providers, Faulkner said.
“It’s a boundary that nobody ever thought much of before, but we’ve learned to work at the census block level to deliver the best service we can,” he said. “It’s just not possible to report right down to the street address.”
Census blocks are defined by roads and do not follow municipal boundaries. In rural areas, census blocks can cover large swaths of land populated by relatively few people, according to Miller.
Spectrum and Verizon cover primarily main roads, but if their coverage extends even slightly into adjacent census blocks — even by one household — the entire block is considered to be served, Miller said, in what the industry describes as a “one served, all served” mentality.
A similar initiative by the Otsego Electric Cooperative is about halfway complete, according Johnson. The company has built out 400 miles of fiber optic line across its service territory, with about 350 miles still to go.
OEC also received state funding for a project that will primarily serve cooperative members, Johnson said, but about 100 miles of fiber optic line will be used to build out to current NYSEG customers, a process that required permission to modify their competitor’s utility poles.
The projects are administered by circuit area and are not defined by municipal boundaries, Johnson said. Construction started in Laurens and moved clockwise to circuit areas in New Berlin, Edmeston, Richfield, Oaksville and Hartwick Seminary, and will also extend into portions of Madison, Herkimer and Chenango counties.
OEC started to “light up” the Laurens circuit area within the past month, Johnson said, and tests are underway in the remaining circuit areas still under construction.
“We’re in a position where we’ve built to the end of where the funding allowed, but now it’s a question of building out to people not covered by the statewide agreement,” Johnson said. “It would cost significantly more money to get even just a mile or two down the road.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.