April 18, 2012

Greater Internet Access Needed in Southern Tier, Regional Economic Development Council Says

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After a recent report found that 25 percent of Tompkins County does not have access to “reliable and affordable” Internet access, competing options have emerged for expanding access to rural areas of the Southern Tier region.

After a recent report found that 25 percent of Tompkins County does not have access to “reliable and affordable” Internet access, competing options have emerged for expanding access to rural areas of the Southern Tier region. At a meeting of the Regional Economic Development Council  — one of 10 regional development councils that Gov. Andrew Cuomo created to to improve New York State’s troubled economy  — on Wednesday at Cornell, council members considered the most recent proposal to remedy this problem.

In a report released in January, the Tompkins County Broadband Committee, which aims to promote Internet technology countywide, emphasizes the role of Internet access in allowing people to participate in the global economy and to take advantage of educational and cultural opportunities.

“The Tompkins County Legislature has a choice. It can assume that Internet access is a personal matter … or treat broadband access to the Internet as … [equally] as necessary to the health of the community as roads and highways,” the report states.

Joe Starks, president of ECC Technologies — a company that specializes in project management and telecommunications consulting — proposed Wednesday that fiber optics cables — telecommunication wires that transmit data — be constructed to bring broadband to more isolated areas in the region.

Starks said that building these cables would allow companies such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo to extend their businesses into the Southern Tier region.

“Those organizations are looking for infrastructure, and they have a lot of other options,” he said. “You don’t have infrastructure out there, and you need it today.”

Under Starks’ proposal, the Southern Tier would construct about 235 miles of fiber optic cable in the Elmira and Binghamton areas in order to bring Internet access to more businesses, as well as to public safety and health care institutions.

Starks noted that increasing Internet access to these industries could “establish global competitiveness” in the region. He said that without the infrastructure to do so, the Southern Tier is at a disadvantage compared to places that have already brought this technology to their communities.

The Southern Tier is currently “five years behind those progressive communities,” he said.

Starks emphasized that installing fiber optic cables would best enable Tompkins County to advance technologically.

The committee’s January report, however, suggests a wireless solution to the problem instead of Starks’ fiber optics proposal. After Starks presented his proposal Wednesday, council members reiterated the recommendations put forth in the report.

Some added that Starks’ system may not be the most economically viable for Tompkins County.

According to Pat Pryor, Tompkins County legislator and chair of the committee, a wireless solution would be more effective in expanding Internet broadband to industries in the region, such as agriculture and tourism, that are largely excluded.

Chuck Bartosch, a member of the committee and the founder of local wireless Internet provider Clarity Connect, Inc., echoed Pryor’s sentiments, saying that fiber optics are not economically feasible for Tompkins County.

“We don’t really care what the technology is, we care about what is cost effective,” Bartosch said.

According to the broadband committee’s report, fiber optic cables could cost anywhere between $25,000 to $60,000 per household. Wireless access, on the other hand, costs only $300 to $800 per household.

Still, Starks said that since more communities are choosing to install fiber optics, using another technology will create a divide between different communities.

“There are a lot of communities that are doing this today,” Starks said. “The new digital divide is those communities that get involved and those that do not.”

Original Author: Caroline Flax

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