Washington County on Tuesday took the first step in hiring a consulting firm to evaluate how many households in the county have access to high-speed, fiber-based broadband in the hopes of securing future funding to expand service to underserved portions of the county.
The county’s Agricultural, Planning, Tourism and Community Development Committee approved a $15,000 request made by Laura Oswald, the county’s director of economic development, to hire ECC Technologies to complete a map survey that will determine what roads have fiber internet lines running along them.
The study is expected to cost $30,000, but the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board will cover the remaining costs using CARES Act funding, Oswald said.
The goal of the survey is to determine how much of the county is served by fiber-based internet, find where the gaps are and develop a plan to extend service to areas that are underserved, which will help companies like Verizon, Spectrum and Slic Network Solutions secure funding to expand service.
“They (ECC Technologies) would help connect the dots and say, ‘It wouldn’t be very difficult to extend service from this company to this area,’ and then ultimately use this as the backbone to try and secure funding to assist these companies to expand their footprint,” she said.
The county had hired ECC Technologies about six years ago to complete a similar study, but never followed up after the state’s Broadband for All initiative was announced in 2015, Oswald said.
The $500 million program promised 99% of New Yorkers would have access to high-speed broadband once completed, but with the final stage of the program expected to wrap up in Washington County later this year, Oswald said many residents are still without reliable internet.
She estimated that only 70% of residents will have access to reliable fiber-based internet after the Broadband for All program is complete. The remaining 30% would be served by satellite internet providers that Oswald said is sluggish and far from reliable.
Oswald stressed that the numbers are only estimates, adding it’s difficult to determine what portions of the county have broadband access since companies refuse to provide that data.
To complete the survey, a team would drive down roads throughout the county and check markings on utility poles, which indicate what type of utility can be found along the poles.
ECC Technologies will also conduct surveys and check internet speeds to determine how fast a connection is and determine if it meets the threshold to be considered high-speed.
Oswald said counties throughout the North Country have inquired about conducting similar surveys, including Warren, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis.
The county’s Finance Committee is expected to meet sometime next month.
Chad Arnold is a reporter for The Post-Star covering the city of Glens Falls and the town and village of Lake George and Washington County government. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGArnold.