Broadband expansion continues across Franklin County
MALONE — Kevin Lynch, CEO of SLIC Network Solutions, updated the Franklin County legislature on continued efforts to expand broadband access across the county prior to its regular meeting Thursday at the courthouse in Malone.
Lynch told legislators that work is ongoing, focusing on efforts to expand access on the northern end of the county with the help of a $900,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture reconnect pilot project. Lynch’s company will provide an 11% match on those funds for work on the northern end of the county.
SLIC provides broadband services to customers throughout Franklin, St. Lawrence, Hamilton, Essex and Clinton counties, according to its website.
Legislator Lindy Ellis, D-Saranac Lake, said the Empire State Broadband Survey, a state initiative in early 2020, illuminated unserved and underserved communities across Franklin County. Coupled with the challenges presented by the COVID pandemic such as telehealth and education, lawmakers and local leaders saw a need for a continued push to improve that availability.
Ellis said research shows that 30% of telehealth appointments since the start of the pandemic were unsuccessful due to slow or unreliable internet connections.
“We are really pleased to get the support of Congresswoman (Elise) Stefanik, Senator (Charles) Schumer and Senator (Kirsten) Gillibrand in receiving the $900,000 congressional project funding that is directed toward broadband expansion in Franklin County,” she said. “Broadband is so important to our families and also to growing businesses. It’s great news for us, because now we can do a broadband expansion into 2023 and 2024 and be ahead of other broadband funding.”
County lawmakers passed a trio of resolutions Thursday thanking the three lawmakers for their support at the federal level.
“There’s going to be lots of broadband grants that will be coming, but they are going to be years out from now. It’s important both for young kids and older folks,” Ellis said. “Four years is going to be a long time to wait.”
Ellis added that New York state is at the forefront nationwide in providing broadband services to rural areas, due to the combined efforts of state government, local leaders and residents. She said lawmakers have been utilizing the data collected by residents on what services are available to them to secure the funding the county needs to further expand those services.
“This has been a team effort,” she said. “We have built a network of town supervisors who go out and engage with their residents directly.”
Much of the expansion, Lynch said, came when SLIC took over for Mohawk Wireless after that firm defaulted on a grant, which allowed SLIC to bid on those open projects.
“We did not take over the entire grant,” Lynch explained. “There were some areas where though it made sense for a wireless project, it didn’t make sense for a fiber project, just on the economics of it.”
He said the grant covered roughly 900 locations, but his company was able to complete more than 1,600 locations. While some of those areas already had broadband availability, SLIC’s work gives those residents a choice in their service provider.
“It gave them some competition; that’s never a bad thing,” he said.
Lynch said broadband can be a costly undertaking, especially in lower populated or remote areas.
“One of the challenges with rural broadband is it’s really a very capital-intensive endeavor,” he said. “There’s some fixed costs that are associated with these build-outs that we don’t have a lot of control over.”
He added that one of the major expenses is pole rentals.
“When we attach to a pole, it’s anywhere from $16 to $19 a year, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you say there’s 27 a mile, you’re now talking $400 a year on pole rentals,” Lynch said. “If you’ve only got four customers, that tells you that your first two months of bills are just paying the rent on the poles.”
Ellis said for those areas where fiber connections are not feasible, other high-speed options exist, such as Starlink and fixed wireless.
Starlink is a satellite technology from Elon Musk’s SpaceX that aims to provide “a low latency, broadband internet system to meet the needs of consumers across the globe,” according to starlink.com. Fixed wireless uses existing towers to broadcast, via microwave, a broadband signal as far as 5 miles from the farthest point of a feasible fiber connection.
Ellis told the Telegram that work to expand broadband availability will continue.
“Our next step is to engage with providers and engage with the USDA so that we get the most out of the money and meet the requirements of the grant itself,” Ellis said.
Lynch said there is a need to raise awareness of the broadband services that have become available to northern Franklin County residents over the last two years.
Area residents are encouraged to check availability in their area by visiting the FCC’s online broadband map at broadbandmap.fcc.gov/home.
From there, consumers can see what services are available at their location, and challenge services listed which are not accurate. This helps lawmakers determine where grants and other funding should be focused.
Ellis said the goal is 100% broadband availability for all Franklin County residents and she is hopeful that work over the next two years will move the county closer to that goal.