With Phase III expansion, MidTel seeks out the Hilltowns

HILLTOWNS — As broadband internet becomes more of a necessity and bringing the service to rural areas becomes more of an issue, the Middleburgh Telephone Company, also known as MidTel, is looking to expand its hyperlocal services further into the Helderberg Hilltowns with the help of state funding.

A map shows that Phase III grants of the New New York Broadband Program support all of MidTel’s buildout in Albany County. According to Jim Becker, the president of MidTel, the state funding is the main reason the company can expand fiber-internet to sparsely populated areas like the Helderberg Hilltowns.

MidTel was awarded over $2.3 million in Phase III grants for the $2.8 million project.

“Without the grants, the return of investment wouldn’t work,” Becker said, of expanding fiber internet further into the Hilltowns. The state funding, he said, will likely move the time for a return on investment from 20 years to 3 to 5 years.

The state-funded expansion of MidTel under Phase III includes 165 homes in Berne; 110 in Rensselaerville; and 16 homes in Westerlo. Becker said that MidTel will likely have meetings in 2019 in Rensselaerville and Berne to discuss the expansion. A previous grant had funded broadband expansion for the company that included a small portion of Rensselaerville.

Becker said that the company is in the beginning stages of this expansion, which involves engineering, designing, and completing applications to install the fiber-optic cables on utility poles. Broadband internet will likely be accessible in these areas by 2021, said Becker. State-funded Phase III expansions must have active networks for the main line by the end of 2019, followed by two years of installation work.

The New New York Broadband Program was designed to bring internet to underserved or unserved areas. Unserved areas are those not having access to internet with at least 25-megabits-per-second download speed, and underserved areas are those not having access to internet with at least 100-megabits-per-second download speed. For that reason, the latest expansion for MidTel cuts through rural areas that are less populated, said Becker.

“On the flip side, with our private [funded] expansion, we’re tending to go down routes where there’s a lot of businesses,” he said, which he said are more densely populated areas.

The company’s goal is to provide fiber-optic internet to the entirety of the residential areas it serves within five years, said Becker. Fiber optic cables transmit the electrical signals carrying internet data through tiny glass fibers, and are known for operating at faster speeds than the copper wires used in cable modems or digital-subscriber lines.

The company, based in Middleburgh in Schoharie County, states on its website that its focus is on providing quality service in place of expanding beyond its hyperlocal reach. But the expansion in the Hilltowns is joined by expansions west into Otsego County and north toward Cobleskill, said Becker, though mostly for businesses. He also said that the company recently bought the Newport Telephone Company in Herkimer County this summer, one of its first acquisitions in 50 years. But Becker said that the company does not intend to expand to areas like Albany.

“We’ve been operating in rural markets for 121 years at this point … ,” he said, recalling a time when the company served only as a telephone service. “It’s sort of our niche, and we’re going to continue to play in that space.”


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