broadband_lansing120The Lansing Town Board agreed to support a grant application Wednesday that could bring high speed Internet access to most of Tompkins County, including 'dead' areas in Lansing.  Local Internet provider Clarity Connect has been working on a plan with towns in the Tompkins County and southern Cayuga County to bring fixed wireless Internet service to almost all unserved areas.

"It's a great opportunity for Lansing," said Councilwoman Ruth Hopkins.  "We have somewhere in the range of 200 households that have no access to a robust Internet connection.  If this grant were awarded we estimate there would be very few Lansing households left out of the intended coverage."

Broadband Committee member Hurf Sheldon says there are 205 unserved homes in Lansing, and he estimates there is the same number of underserved families stuck with bandwidth caps and intermittent service.  State officials estimate that more than 700,000 New Yorkers have no broadband access and another six million are underserved.  Tompkins County Broadband Committee Chair Pat Pryor says that state estimates of unserved areas in Tompkins County are much lower than what her committee is finding to be the reality.

In August Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an opportunity for New York  communities to apply for a total of $25 million in the state's 'Connect NY' program.  The committee asked local Internet providers to become involved with their efforts to bring broadband service to rural Tompkins County, especially to areas established Internet providers have not been willing to serve.

Clarity Connect's Chuck Bartosch responded, and is currently working to meet a tight October 5th deadline for submitting the grant proposal.  Pryor says that Bartosch is still working out costs for the project, but estimates the proposal will request approximately $2.5 million.  Bartosch was recently successful in obtaining a similar grant to bring fixed wireless Internet to Dryden.

"We are also seeking endorsements from anchor institutions in the community," Pryor said.  

Sheldon says that the connection is actually faster than that provided by the local cable provider, and the anticipated rate of close to $30 per month would be less than for cable Internet service.  He noted that television will not be provided on the county-wide service, but video streaming would work as it does on any high speed Internet connection.

"It's interesting that what they advertise as high speed Internet from Time Warner and Verizon and other vendors is at the bottom end of what the government is calling their high speed Internet standard," Sheldon said.  "This well up in it.  Fixed wireless allows us to have very high bandwidth with very low investment cost for either the client or the vendor.  On a per-household basis the monthly fees should be substantially lower than $50 per month.  Closer to $30.  And some of that can be used to subsidize lower income homes."

Claire Perez lives on Peruville Road in an area only a sixth of a mile from cable service.  She has become a local activist and blogger in her quest to get broadband service in her area.  A couple of weeks ago she hooked up to the fixed broadband served by the new west Dryden tower.

"It's wonderful," she said.  "My husband hasn't left the living room!"

If granted the Town would agree to waive standard permit fees, contribute possibly $20,000 plus in-kind services toward utility poles, electrical connections, etc.  The plan outlines a combination of 52 foot high utility poles and existing towers around the area.  In Lansing the plan is to erect a minimum of four of these poles, slightly taller than telephone poles.  If permission cannot be obtained for locating equipment on existing towers a maximum of seven to nine poles would be erected in the Town.

Sheldon says that the committee is looking at ways to accomplish the same result if the county cannot obtain the grant.  But he says that the county-wide approach puts Tompkins County in the running to receive funding, which would mean that.

"This is important because there is a socio-economic disadvantage in education, in access to medical services, and also to being able to have a business in your home," Sheldon said.  "We've looked at statistics that say there is a two or three percent economic growth for an area that has full Internet  versus one that doesn't, because of small businesses that can be run out of homes."

Sheldon says the grant would make it possible for the County to serve an estimated 97% of unserved homes and a vastly greater number of underserved people.  While the system is focused on serving unserved areas of Lansing such as the Salmon Creek valley, it will also cover many parts of town that are currently served by major providers.  Sheldon said people in those areas will be eligible to switch to the new service if they so choose.

The Town Board voted unanimously to partner with Clarity Connect in applying for the grant.