Broadband internet access may be coming to more residents across Tompkins County after the Ithaca Area Economic Development received a major grant to construct a new broadband extension project.
The $404,170 grant will go toward the construction of a 17-mile broadband extension line extending from Ithaca to the site of the former Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing. The line will make it possible for the Cayuga Operating Company to convert the powerplant into a new data center.
The future data center, known as the Cayuga Data Juice Project, will likely be one of the major users of internet access made possible by the line. The project will create enough data processing capacity for cloud storage, big data modeling and artificial intelligence development, according to the Ithaca Voice.
The Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER initiative — which focuses on helping communities affected by job losses in coal-related businesses — funded the grant, IAED announced Oct. 14. Heorot Power, which owns Cayuga Operating Company, will match the grant, and IAED will also contribute money towards the building of the line.
“Many of the rural communities here in Tompkins County don’t have decent internet service and also lack decent sales and services,” said Irene Weiser, a local environmental activist and town board member for the town of Caroline. “These kinds of problems have been magnified now during COVID-19 when many more people are trying to do virtual schooling or telecommuting.”
Kurt Anderson, director of development and strategy for IAED, said he hopes local internet service providers will tap into the line, driving competition that will improve access, quality and cost for residents.
“We are going to do everything we can to make this an open access line that any [Internet Service Provider] can use to improve competition and drive prices down,” Anderson said.
High speed, stable broadband internet access has become essential as COVID-19 pushes education, healthcare and employment online, making the project well-timed for the pandemic era.