GHENT–The Town Board heard complaints last week about broadband availability. A real estate agent and resident of Westview Drive voiced her concerns, singling out local Internet and telephone service.
“It seems to me that instead of the Internet getting better in this area, it’s getting worse,” she said.
Many rural parts of Columbia County are not within the area reached by broadband Internet service. It has been such concern among rural residents and businesses that Congressman Chris Gibson (R-19th) organized a forum in August for the county’s leaders to learn about the issues and efforts to expand service to reach more residents.
The Westview Drive resident says the limited availability of broadband is a two-fold issue for her. Not only does it create obstacles to working from home on her computer, it limits her ability to sell property to potential customers. She says she gets customers who say they will only move into a place that has broadband.
She said she called her provider, FairPoint Communications, and was told that the company is not required to offer DSL Internet service–a type of broadband carried over cables–to residences more than 18,000 feet from a company substation. While her house is barely within the limit, she said there are houses that fall outside the rage, including one for sale.
FairPoint’s website, www.fairpoint.com, states that high-speed Internet connections through the DSL service are “only available to customers residing within approximately 3 miles (up to 18,000 feet) of their FairPoint Central Office.” It goes on to say that “we’re working hard to make FairPoint High Internet available to all our customers.”
Town Supervisor Larry Andrews said that other residents have come in before and voiced the same concerns. He said he has made several phone calls so far. “I don’t know what the answer is,” he said. “But we will continue to put pressure wherever we can.”
Board Member Richard Sardo said he’s made phone calls too, and he attended the forum in August organized by Congressman Gibson.
He suggested that the town invite other companies to the area and see what they can offer.
Another hurdle slowing the growth of broadband Internet in rural areas is that the distance between houses and the low population densities makes expanding access to the service unprofitable. A Ghent resident brought up that point at the meeting, lamenting that companies have rejected grants in the past that were intended to encourage broadband expansion. The resident cited the case of Mid-Hudson Cable, a cable TV and Internet service provider, which does not serve the Town of Ghent. Mid-Hudson rejected a $3.5-million grant in 2011 for that reason, according to blogger Sam Pratt in a post last year on his website, www.sampratt.com.
Mr. Andrews said he will look into starting a committee to research possible solutions to the broadband issue.
Also at the December 20 Town Board meeting:
•The board was again urged during the public comment period to cite TCI of New York, Inc., for violations of town codes. Resident Mark Johnson brought attention to the documents put together by citizens group GhentCANN member Patti Matheney, which outline reasons why residents believe TCI violated the codes. The documents, which were distributed to both Planning Board and Town Board members earlier in the month, also contain highlights of a permit request by TCI to the Department of Environmental Conservation. That application, which apparently requests for permission to handle more PCBs, has been recently withdrawn by TCI.
TCI has submitted an application to the town to rebuild at the West Ghent site. That application is now being reviewed by the Planning Board and by the Town Engineer Ray Jurkowski, according to Town Attorney Ted Guterman. The Planning Board will likely be ready to ask questions of TCI at the January 2 Planning Board meeting.
Mr. Johnson says he will have many “numbers” of residents opposed to TCI’s plan ready to attend Town and Planning Board meetings “if that’s what it takes.”
•Highway Superintendent Michael Losa said the he believes people are stealing town road signs to sell the aluminum and it is costing the town a lot of money and time to replace the signs. He says that many towns in the county are dealing with the same issue, so sign makers are backed up.
“When someone calls saying that their road sign is missing, it’s taking three to five weeks to get one,” he said. “We’re trying to keep up with it.”
He estimates towns are losing 20-30 signs a month.
*The board determined winners of a recent coloring contest. The town held the contest for children during its tree lighting event on December 2 at the Ghent Town Hall. The ages ranged from 3 to 12 years old. Of 20 participants, the board ruled there were 20 winners.
*Mr. Andrews said that anybody interested in serving on any committees for the town in the new year should contact with him.