Cortland County will lay out a plan by the end of the month to expand broadband service, including more than 400 miles of rural roads.
However, six years may pass before the project is completed, David Bottar, executive director of the CNY Regional Planning and Development Board, told county legislators.
“The situation here in Cortland County is the same we’re seeing across Central New York — you’ll have service on a road up to a certain point, and it stops because there aren’t enough customers further up the road,” Bottar said at the county Legislature’s Agriculture, Planning and Environment Committee meeting Tuesday.
The county and its planning department are working with consultants ECC Technologies. The first step: driving around Cortland County to find out where internet service cuts off.
“This is a great starting point, to give us the data that we need to move forward with closing these gaps,” said Planning Director Trisha Jesset. “This was the first step that was really imperative, as a county, to recognize where we have the needs. The next step is to look for opportunities to help close those gaps.”
Nearly 1,500 homes and businesses lack internet access in Cortland County. The study shows that the towns of Cuyler, Truxton and Virgil have the least broadband access, Bottar said.
They could wait several years before they’re plugged in.
“Because of what we’ve all experienced this past year with COVID, there will be tremendous competition for the broadband grants,” Bottar said.
The best way to win a federal broadband grant is to complete a broadband study, Bottar said. “We should have the final report by the end of September, and it will put Cortland County in a very good position to begin making some big decisions.”
Legislator Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) said he’s concerned that the county’s broadband expansion will bring only shoddy internet service to the rural areas.
Under current Federal Communications Commission policy, 25 megabytes per second download/3 Mbps upload is the minimum standard for broadband, but that speed just wasn’t enough for Americans working or learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, Harbin said.
“I’m worried we’ll look at this and say we’ve got coverage in all of these areas,” Harbin said, “but if they’re covered by insufficient levels of broadband access, that’s not sufficient for a small business or a household trying to promote education. 25/3 is just not an acceptable level of broadband.
In March, four U.S. senators proposed a new standard of 100 Mbps for both download and upload speeds, but federal standards have yet to change.
The final draft plan will take into account which households had slow internet speed, Bottar said.
Cortland County must concentrate on not just getting internet service, but high-quality service, said Legislator Joseph Nauseef (U-Cortlandville). Remote work and learning is a big concern, but residents in rural areas may want to expand their businesses on a digital platform, but don’t have the internet access to get started.
“We also have a farming industry that is really moving, becoming tech-savvy for a lot of their logistics,” Nauseef said. “It’s important to be able to get that opportunity for them to be able to bring their business up to the new age and be able to level the playing field.”