Internet service providers look to “underserved” Hilltowns

HILLTOWNS — The Helderberg Hilltowns — the sparsely populated, westernmost part of Albany County — have been described has “unserved and underserved,” references to either a complete lack of internet or poor internet access. But internet service providers like Hudson Valley Wireless and Mid-Hudson Cable that are now backed with state grants, are looking to change that.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy had announced in March that the Hilltowns would be receiving wireless internet. County spokeswoman Mary Rozak said that the Albany-based company Hudson Valley Wireless was the only one to answer a request for proposals.

Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier said at last week’s town board meeting that he had joined Hudson Valley Wireless this month for a day of mapping the Hilltowns to determine how wireless internet will be set up in the area.

“For the kids in the Hilltowns,” he said, “it makes them more competitive with the kids in suburban areas.”

He described how the signal to transmit the wireless internet would travel from Albany to Berne, Knox, and parts of Rensselaerville — a town in which a small section is guaranteed high-speed fiber optic internet by 2020 through the Middleburgh-based company MidTel after it received a state grant last year.

Speaking to The Enterprise on Monday, Crosier said he felt internet service would also boost the town’s economy. More residents would have the option to either work remotely from home or run a home business, thereby saving on fuel expenses and also being more likely to spend their money locally rather than at a workplace off the Hill. Crosier also said access to internet could benefit agriculture and other businesses.

Hudson Valley Wireless already spans 2,300 square miles of the Capital Region, going from just south of the city of Albany to north of Lake George, said Jason Guzzo, its general manager. According to Guzzo, the next phase of expansion is focused on the Hilltowns because of the lack of internet services.

“So, basically, the areas where the cable companies don’t provide service. Those are the area we’re interested in,” he said. “The community needs access to high-speed internet, and typically it doesn’t meet the economic model of the wireline providers.”

The company is looking to fund this project in part with New York State grants. It has already received money through the Connect NY Broadband Grant, and is looking to receive funds through the New New York Broadband Program, a state program looking to fund internet service providers in unserved and underserved areas.

The state categorizes unserved areas as where “broadband service is not available from a wireline-based provider at advertised speeds equal to or higher than 25 mbps,” while underserved as those with “advertised speeds” no greater than 100 mbps, or megabytes per second.

To qualify for the grant, cable companies must provide those in the designated unserved or underserved areas with 25 mbps download speed and 4 mbps upload speed at a monthly rate not to exceed $60 for five years upon the project’s completion, with a $49 installation fee.

Guzzo said the company intends to charge the rate required in the state’s grant.

Unlike cable companies that install internet cables along power lines to then be hooked up to a wireless router or an ethernet cable, Hudson Valley Wireless uses what is known as a “backbone” in Albany, where internet is attached via cable, and then uses microwaves to transmit the wireless internet from one dish to the next. These dishes are attached to cell towers as well as telephone poles, and eventually arrive at a home or business by connecting with a small dish installed there.

“We’re in a very strategic location,” said Guzzo, noting that Albany serves as a base for internet providers in the Northeast.

Guzzo said internet speeds for wireless are comparable to cable companies’, and that it is around 24 times faster than satellite internet — which must send and receive signals from space.

The grant requires projects be completed by the end of 2018, but Guzzo said the company is targeting the beginning of that year for completion.

Dropping a line in Westerlo

Westerlo has long campaigned for more access to internet. The town had its 15-year contract with Mid-Hudson Cable expire last year. The town is now reviewing a new contract with the company that would expand access to a new section of Westerlo along routes 410 and 402, said David Fingar, chief engineer at Mid-Hudson Cable.

According to Fingar, a draft of the agreement was sent to the town for review, and the company is now waiting to see if the town will make any changes before sending it back.

According to Dorothy Verch, the head of Westerlo’s Broadband Research Committee and its planning board chairwoman, a public hearing must follow the approval of the contract, after which the agreement must be ratified by the town board.

The company has already begun mapping the area in preparation of installing cable, and expects to have the project complete shortly after the town approves it, said Fingar.

The company has also received funding from the state’s Broadband Program Office, and is looking to apply for another grant to further expand into Westerlo, said Fingar. Because of the grant, it also will be offering 25 mbps download speed and 4 mbps upload speed for $60 a month in areas covered by the program.

The company, which is based in Hudson and Catskill, covers parts of Rensselaerville, Westerlo, and Coeymans, as well as areas in Greene and Columbia County.

Both Guzzo and Fingar said they were not concerned about being in competition with the other company, but rather expressed that each would offer internet to those who currently don’t have it.

“I would consider that a good thing,” said Fingar.

However, he asserted that wireless internet cannot run as fast as cable internet, and noted that cable internet is not as at risk for disruptions in its transmission as wireless internet is.


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