DRYDEN — If the town board continues on its current trajectory, Dryden could become the first town in the state to own and operate a municipal broadband service. Thursday night, about two dozen residents heard what it might look like.
The cost: $14.53 million, which would include laying fiber optic cable to every customer in town, a process that would take five to six years, according to a presentation by Ryan Garrison of Hunt Engineering.
Garrison said the service, if at least 60 percent of the town’s households subscribed, would generate $3.7 million annually.
Town supervisor Jason Leifer said he is eager to get the project moving. The next step, he said, is to set up a committee of 7 to 9 members, which he wants to start meeting in early 2020.
The proposed service would provide broadband to every household or business within the town limits that requested it, but service would be incrementally extended as fiber optic cable was installed. Garrison said the basic residential service would have speeds as fast as 300 to 400 Mbps.
According to a survey conducted by Hunt Engineering:
- 96% of 935 respondents said they would be interested in broadband service with a download speed of at least 100 Mbps.
- 3,979 households were surveyed; the town has 6,016 households. The survey had a 24% response rate.
- 71% of respondents said they are Spectrum subscribers.
- 46% of respondent said they have download speeds of less than 10 Mbps.
- 41% of respondents pay between $51 and $100 per month for internet service.
Under the proposal, the town would own the broadband network and serve as its own internet service provider, or ISP. The proposal suggests that the town contract out the construction and installation of the fiber optic network, as well as customer service and network equipment operation.
Town internet plans are projected to cost $50 per month for basic residential broadband and $75 for basic business service, as well as $100 per month for 1 Gbps residential service and $150 for 1 Gbps business services.
Leifer said he would like the town to apply for ReConnect loans and grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture next year by a May deadline; this means the board would have to vote on whether to do the project by its April meeting, he said.
Leifer asked Garrison if the introduction of 5G internet would affect the town proposal.
Garrison said he thought it was unlikely, since 5G would start out in larger municipalities, such as Ithaca, before being slowly extended to rural areas. He added that the expense and limited range of 5G towers would further limit the effectiveness of 5G in bringing high speed internet to rural areas.
Resident Fred Balfour asked if private telecoms such as Spectrum could potentially undercut the project by lowering their rates to lure away potential subscribers.
Garrison said private telecoms would likely offer promotional rates in response, but the municipal service could effectively compete by offering consistently lower rates with faster and more reliable service based on fiber optic cable, and not copper cable lines.
Leifer noted that there are other ways that towns can partner with telecom companies to provide broadband service, but he was determined to make sure that the town owned the entire physical fiber optic network so that, over time, it would be able to reinvest earnings in the town’s other infrastructure, such as its roads.
“We’ve given industry like 30 years plus to do this,” he said. “We’re not going back. It doesn’t work.”