State awards county $24M broadband upgrades

GREENPORT–Internet users around Columbia County got some good news this week with the announcement that the county has received a total of $24 million in state funding to upgrade service here.

The award will lead to upgrades in 11 communities in the county ranging from $1.4 million in Canaan to $4.2 million in Copake. The money is intended to make high-speed service, called broadband, available to 8,000 potential customers here.

The funds are part of a $500-million Broadband for All initiative announced last summer in Hudson by Governor Andrew Cuomo. This is Round II of grant awards and Columbia County received more money than any other area of the state and 65% of all the broadband funds in the Capital Region, according to Michael Tucker, president and CEO of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC).

Communities around the county are still trying to pinpoint areas that need service upgrades. Also, service upgrades are required by state regulators in the northern part of the county where Charter Communications provides cable TV. The broadband requirements were a condition the state set before approving Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable, which also supplies internet service.

Mr. Tucker said the new funds will pay for 80% of the cost of expanding broadband service. The remaining 20% of the costs will be picked up by commercial service providers. Locally, those firms are: Fairpoint, Frontier, G-Tel and Mid Hudson Data.

Governor Cuomo announced the new grants Tuesday, February 28, saying that $39.2 million has been awarded to 11 projects in the Capital Region. Columbia and Greene counties are considered to have the most limited access to broadband service in the state.

“Broadband is today what electricity was nearly a century ago – essential to creating economic opportunity, driving innovation and an absolute necessity for our way of life,” Governor Cuomo said in the release announcing the grants.

Gallatin Supervisor John Reilly said in a release from the county Board of Supervisors that board members and the board’s Broadband Subcommittee “are thrilled that Columbia County was so prominently featured in the announced Phase two funding. The Governor and the Broadband Program Directors understood the great need and were clearly receptive to our local efforts in making the needs of Columbia County well known and providing information, mapping and data from our grassroots organizations and County Development Corporation to the State in a timely matter.”

He also praised town committees and “grassroots organizations like Connect Columbia and the active Hillsdale committee” for helping collect resident and street data the “demonstrated clearly that the county was organized in a cooperative and bipartisan fashion to address this crucial service issue.

He said it the local Town committees and organizations, working through the county subcommittee and the CEDC will now have to track areas of the county that have not been included on coverage maps.

In a written statement, Mr. Tucker said of the grants: “As a result of this investment and the service upgrades anticipated from the Time Warner-Charter merger, Columbia County will be in a strong position to promote business growth, attract new businesses and compete in a global economy. It will also strengthen our K-12 education system, attract more tourist and second homeowners and improve the quality of life for all county residents.”

Patti Matheney, a Ghent Town Board member and one of the founders of Connect Columbia was more cautious in her reaction to the promise of new broadband service funding, saying this week. “We have to make sure they fill in all the holes” in the local broadband service,” she said.

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