State ConnectALL broadband program to bring fiber-optic service to Diana, Pitcairn and balance Lewis County's broadband budget

·4 min read

May 28—HARRISVILLE — Neighboring towns — Diana in Lewis County and Pitcairn in St. Lawrence County — are two of the four municipalities targeted for fiber-optic broadband installation for the "middle mile" through a state broadband program, allowing Lewis County to stay within its $2 million broadband budget partnership with Charter Spectrum impacting five towns and a village.

The $10 million state project is the first in Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul's $1 billion ConnectALL high-speed internet infrastructure initiative.

"My understanding is that they're putting in new fiber for their infrastructure, the New York Power Authority, and in doing so they're allowing adjacent roads to build off that fiber and they've turned it into a public works project," said Lewis County Manager Ryan M. Piche.

Those lengths of fiber-optic cable, offshoots of the main NYPA lines referred to as "first mile" infrastructure, are the "middle miles" that will bring the fastest, most reliable broadband infrastructure possible to the "final mile" lines that transmit the service directly to more than 2,000 homes and businesses in the four towns.

The program is designed to benefit New Yorkers "living and working in some of the most remote areas of our great state," according to NYPA interim President and CEO Justin E. Driscoll, and allows NYPA "to maximize the use of our equipment, share our technical expertise and strengthen our customer relationships."

"The past two years have reminded New Yorkers of how crucial reliable and affordable broadband is so we can stay connected to family, work, school and health care services, as many were forced to work and attend school remotely, and deep crevices in New York's digital landscape were exposed," Gov. Hochul said in a news release on the model program's launch.

The governor included broadband in a list of basic, 21st century necessities including heat, water and electricity, adding that it will also "boost economic growth and local innovation."

"It's going to be a good thing, I think, definitely for the outlying areas, the rural areas outside the hamlet (of Harrisville,)" said Diana Supervisor Zachary J. Smith. "When COVID hit and everything went remote, everybody was scrambling to get kids access for education and parents working. I hope we never have to go fully remote the way we did at the beginning of the pandemic but I'm glad to see there's steps being taken to help the rural communities."

ConnectALL initiative is a statewide effort harnessing grant programs for local municipal funding for broadband infrastructure, an effort to extend existing broadband networks to unserved and underserved rural areas and ensure "equitable access to broadband" among other measures.

Lewis County leaders have been working with Mr. Smith to include Diana in their $2.5 million broadband program funded with $1 million from county funds and $1.5 of the county's American Rescue Plan Act money.

Mr. Piche, who attended the new state program's launch in Sherburne, Chenango County, on Friday morning, said the program has a hidden benefit for Lewis County.

"Before we knew about this, we were going to be a little over the budget of the $2.5 million we'd set aside for broadband," Mr. Piche said. "It was perfect because the amount we were going to be over budget was the same exact amount we saved (by not having to provide services for Diana), so we are now perfectly on budget."

The county will enter a $4.53 million agreement with Charter Spectrum to install fiber-optic cable along select roads in the towns of Denmark, Croghan, Lowville, Greig and Watson and the village of Constableville. That amount includes a $1.1 million contribution by the company.

Additionally, the county will spend $370,000 over three years with Charter Spectrum to install WiFi hot spots in villages; about $66,000 in taxpayer money and $263,000 in grant funding to install wireless broadband in the towns of Denmark and Pinkney; and a $748,000 grant for wireless broadband in Diana and Lyonsdale as part of their ongoing broadband accessibility efforts.

The agreement with Charter Spectrum is expected to be finalized during the June Lewis County Board of Legislators meeting.

There remains about $70,000 in the county's budget to be put to use in another way, Mr. Piche said.