Backed by a groundswell of local support, an Ithaca-based internet service provider will make a run for crucial state grant dollars that could bring broadband connectivity to 3,400 underserved households in Tompkins County.
Clarity Connect Inc. will serve as lead applicant on a $3 million bid to expand high-speed internet service to areas in Tompkins and Cayuga counties and some 14 towns in total. Though Clarity Connect is the lead applicant, some 30 public and private partner agencies, including local governments — Tompkins County Legislature being one of them, school districts and businesses are represented in the proposal.
In its first internet-development grant initiative since 2007, New York has made $25 million in competitive funding available to areas of the state most in need of high-speed internet. Part of “Connect NY,” the grant money for broadband internet will be allocated through the state’s regional economic development councils.
Tompkins County has positioned itself for such rare funding opportunities, forming a special broadband committee that spent two years assessing the county’s internet needs.
In January, the committee — headed by Pat Pryor and Dave McKenna and comprised of several information technology experts throughout the county — recommended a fixed wireless system to bring broadband access to the area’s rural, underserved households. Under a fixed wireless system, a fiber or wireless connection from a central office feeds a distribution point, which then sends out a wireless internet signal.
Such a system would help bring broadband service to the county’s hard-to-reach towns, like Ulysses, Enfield, Newfield, Danby, Caroline, Groton and Lansing.
“They are the hardest areas to reach because of topography,” said Clarity Connect founder and chief executive officer Chuck Bartosch, who also is a member of the county’s broadband committee. “Unfortunately, signals can’t go through dirt, and it’s an issue, given all the hills.”
In the event that it receives funding, Clarity Connect would partner with Finger Lakes Technology Group to install infrastructure needed to transmit wireless signals to distribution points. Existing infrastructure — a telephone pole or cell tower, say — can be used to relay signals. Bartosch said each town would need, on average, five endpoints installed, while some towns need just three.
Clarity Connect would also coordinate plans with Spencer’s Haefele TV, which serves parts of Enfield. While Finger Lakes Technology Group would expand its DSL lines in Ulysses, Haefele would expand its cable-based systems around the Enfield area, he said.
Pryor said the proposal’s commitment to community partnerships was a major sticking point for the broadband committee, which unanimously backed Clarity Connect’s proposal. Among both public and private entities involved are the county’s library system, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Ithaca City schools and TC3, to name a few.
“Clarity Connect is taking the lead on infrastructure,” Pryor said, “but they also pulled together other organizations to plan for education and awareness, so that once the service becomes available, we can reach out to people and make sure they have the tools as end users to make use of the service. That education and awareness is equally as important t as getting the service out there.”
The project cost for the fixed wireless system is pegged at $4 million, and a little more than $1 million has already been raised through private and in-kind contributions, Bartosch said. Grant recipients could be announced as soon as November.