Hillsdale hears yet another plan to lift digital dark

HILLSDALE—“Columbia County is pretty much the worst in the state,” said Columbia County Planning Department Commissioner Ken Flood. He was talking about broadband access to the Internet.

The October 21 meeting of the Hillsdale Town Board began with a presentation on the issue of broadband and the high-speed access it offers consumers and businesses by Mr. Flood and ASA Networks Director of Marketing Joe Plotkin.

Mr. Flood said that Columbia County poses some unique problems that make it “difficult for providers to actually make money.” One of the main problems is the relatively even distribution of residences throughout the county, as opposed to some other areas that have pockets of high population density. “It’s no fault of the county’s or the supervisors’. Just like we’re the perfect storm for agriculture, we’re the perfect storm for broadband.”

He went on to say, “The ultimate goal would be to have everybody on fiber,” a reference to fiberoptic cables that can carry large amounts of data at high speeds.“That’s probably not a realistic goal for Columbia County,” Mr. Flood said.

“This is brand new technology,” said Mr. Plotkin of his company’s experimental broadband project, which uses “TV white spaces.” White spaces are the relatively low frequency waves that used to be used for UHF television broadcasting—the kind you could receive with antennas. These waves can “go through foliage and windows and weather and walls,” said Mr. Plotkin.

Mr. Flood described the need for creating “a telecommunications plan for the county” so that “when we go to apply for funding, [the] project is identified and ready.” Mr. Flood said that developing this plan would cost $30- to $40,000. “Then we go after the government money,” he said. “We have a plan to do the plan.”

Mr. Flood said that one of these funding sources is the federal Rural Experiment plan, which is providing $100-million nationwide. Another source might be $500 million that Governor Cuomo has pledged to put in the next budget to improve broadband service throughout the state. Mr. Flood also said that the $2-billion Smart Schools program will contribute towards improving service.

Mr. Flood said that a recent survey in the county received about 1,200 responses, mostly from the eastern part of the county, which has the worst broadband service. “Until that survey, I didn’t realize how many people run businesses out of their homes,” said Mr. Flood.

Mr. Flood’s uttering of the names of two of the providers currently in the county—Verizon and FairPoint—brought laughter and jeers from the audience. “Those are bad words, I know,” said Mr. Flood. When a member of the audience asked where people should direct complaints, Mr. Flood said, “You should be complaining to FairPoint.”

“They know me by name,” said the audience member.

Mr. Flood also offered that the state Public Service Commission would accept complaints.

In other business, the board:

  • Learned that five of the 15 engineering firms contacted about the town’s sidewalk project responded. “We brought that down to two finalists,” said Supervisor Art Baer. “We’re interviewing those two finalists here tomorrow”
  • Tentatively scheduled a public hearing for November 4 at 6 p.m. after hearing from two members of the Hillsdale Planning Board about a proposed modification to a zoning law that would expand the 2007 Ridgeline Overlay Law—a regulation protecting viewsheds—to include views from other municipalities. The goal would be to avoid future lawsuits. The Planning Board recently lost a lawsuit due to a lack of specificity in the wording of the law
  • Tentatively set the next public hearing about the budget for October 28
  • Heard from Laura Griffin that a beta version of the Hillsdale Business Alliance Directory is now online. According to Ms. Griffin, “almost one in 10 Hillsdalers owns a business.”



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