DRYDEN — The town of Dryden could be the first in New York to run its own municipal internet company, if town residents react favorably to the idea. And they seem to be so far, said town Supervisor Jason Leifer.
The proposed municipal internet service, which could cost $12 million, would make fiber optic internet available to every town residence. The town would be its own internet service provider.
“We’re going to own everything, just the same way we own water and sewer pipes,” Leifer said. “It’s the same thing.”
The town would also handle billing and customer service, services that the town might contract out.
“The point is to do this as efficiently as possible,” said Dan Lamb, town deputy supervisor.
First, the town board needs to see paid consultants HUNT Engineers, Architects & Surveyors of Horseheads $30,000 to conduct a feasibility study. As part of that contract, HUNT is surveying residents by mail and through the town’s website.
Once that survey is complete — Leifer expects it to be done by the end of July — the town board will evaluate the response.
It’s looking for about 2,000 residents to indicate they want the town to take over internet service. He doesn’t think that reaching this threshold will be difficult, because he thinks Spectrum, the main internet provider in town, and the only company with fiber optic cable, has angered too many people.
Leifer said Spectrum claims to provide access to every community in the area, but it leaves several pockets with no fiber optic service. When people in those areas try to get hooked in, Spectrum demands “ridiculous prices” for extending cable to their homes, Leifer said.
“They’ve got a customer base that’s held hostage,” he said.
Take Elliott Swarthout, for instance. Swarthout, who lives on Synder Hill Road, said Time Warner told him in 2012 that laying down fiber optic cable along his 800-foot driveway would cost $10,000. Two months ago, Spectrum told him it would cost $6,500.
“We do have a long driveway, but it still seems excessive,” he said. He didn’t take either offer.
“We’ve spoken directly to (Swarthout) and provided options for extending our network to his location,” wrote Andrew Russell, a representative for Spectrum’s parent, Charter Communications. “In this case, it’s not economically feasible without the customer contributing to the cost of construction due to the home’s distance from our network.”
Swarthout said he learned of the municipal broadband proposal after overhearing two residents chatting about it at a piano recital. Swarthout jumped into the conversation to learn more.
“I was very pleased that there may be a new option coming into town,” he said.
While some state grant money from New NY Broadband Program has flowed into Dryden to improve internet connectivity, none of that money has paid for fiber optic cable. That includes $431,520 to help Clarity Fiber Solutions serve 84 locations, and another $9,136 went to Hughes Network Systems, LLC, for another 55 locations, but neither of these companies own fiber optic lines in the town.
If the board goes ahead with the municipal broadband idea, the town expects to post a bond to pay for the project, said Lamb, who estimated the cost of setting up the service at $12 million. The internet service and the bond would be entirely paid by subscribers, he said. Lamb said the town would also apply for grants.
Leifer said he gets frustrated when he hears people claiming that “government can’t do anything right.”
“I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” he said. “We’re going to show people that it can be done.”