Medina Journal-Register — The push to bring improved broadband access to rural areas in Orleans counties is gaining momentum and support, the men who kick started the effort said Tuesday.
The Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance Inclusive Internet Initiative is now prepared to pursue grant funding to better study the penetration of modern, high-speed internet in areas that officials say are inaccurately considered to have nearly complete coverage. NORA will apply for state grant funding through the consolidated funding application process, which means the request must be in by July 16.
“We’ve come a long way in the past five months,” Ridgeway Supervisor Brian Napoli told the the monthly meeting of the Orleans County Supervisors/Legislators Association, held Tuesday in Childs at Tillman’s Village Inn.
Napoli and retired telecommunications and information technology professional Evhen Tupis have worked for more than three years to address the issue. Tupis says the signs that their effort is taking hold are seen in both local governments and on the road.
He recently drove through towns in both counties to see how many homes were not served by broadband and found more than 200 in Barre and more than 600 in Wilson; and then he found a TIme Warner Cable van doing the same type of information gathering shortly after.
“We’re getting the attention we deserve,” Tupis said.
Tupis said the current FCC map shows 97 percent of the two-county area as receiving broadband internet, an inaccurate measurement due to the out-of-focus view that is taken by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
“They aggregate data and don’t use address points,” Tupis explained. “If there’s one house in a census block with service they mark the entire block as having service. The need is great. The smaller an area you look at the greater the detail you get.”
County Legislator Lynne Johnson said the lack of high-speed internet access disinclines tele-commuters from moving to rural areas and slows agri-business.
“We don’t need to be considered a “rural backwater,” especially in business,” Johnson, whose Yates business is in an area without access.
The proposed survey would provide information for development similar to the prep work done for water district projects. It would also open up the area for the infrastructure investments that are currently focused on rural areas in the plains states.
“We can re-qualify for New York state and federal grant programs that are now awarded elsewhere because of flawed, aggregated “official” maps,” Tupis said. “The federal and state money goes where there are holes.”
But first the initiative needed government backing and a project director. NORA, the collaborative effort between the county legislatures in Albion and Lockport, covers the first; the Niagara County IT department will handle the second.
Work on a project charter is underway, another step necessary before a study could commence.
OTS looks to maximize partnerships (CHAPTER HEAD)
• Officials from the RGRTA and Orleans Transportation Service also presented an update to the gathering of town and county officials. RGRTA Chief Economic Officer Bill Carpenter said the transportation service has received initial state funding to conduct environmental and engineering studies of a proposed bus depot at the county highway garage in Albion; additional funding for the project depends on the results of that study.
OTS is nearing a decision on where to place a pair bus shelters in Orleans County. Carpenter said the leading contenders are near the intersection of Maple Ridge Road and Main Street in Medina and near the Hoag Library in Albion. OTS provides fixed route services in both communities.
• State Sen. George Maziarz told the gathering that he will meet with State DOT officials next week to discuss the Bates Road project. Albany withdrew its funding commitment for the project on the day construction began earlier this month.Contact reporter Jim Krencikat 798-1400, ext. 6327.