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New York counties begin major fiber optic expansion

By Donna Donowitz
December 9, 2010
Officials from St. Lawrence and Franklin counties in New York recently met at Clarkson University to discuss plans to expand a fiber optic, broadband internet network in their area. The project is being carried out by Slic Network Solutions, a telecommunications company stationed in Potsdam, New York.

The project will cost $33 million and is being funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Its goal is to bring high-speed internet to communities with limited or non-existent connectivity, the Watertown Daily Times reports.

While the project is expensive, some see it as a major opportunity for growth in rural towns. “The price tag is high, but boosters see this as akin to the rural electrification of the 1930s - vital if small towns are to remain viable in the next century,” wrote Brian Mann, a reporter for North Country Public Radio.

According to Philip Wagschal, Slic’s president and general manager, the company will oversee the construction of 660 miles of fiber optic cable that will provide broadband internet, phone and video service to 5,856 homes across 16 towns in St. Lawrence County.

The project will provide Franklin County with 136 miles of fiber optic cable for 726 homes in six towns.

"These are areas where the digital divide is real," Wagschal said to the Daily Times. "Dickinson Center, for example, has no cable or DSL. They basically only have phone service. This is a huge win for these communities."

These areas lacked funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development's Rural Utilities Service, which relegated them to dial-up internet connections, Wagschal said.

In addition to providing these areas with faster internet, Wagshcal expects the network to create 89 jobs in the two counties. "Some of the jobs will stay to oversee the maintenance of facilities and provide additional services," he said. "This will also put us in a position to expand our network."

The project is currently still being designed. Workers will break ground in March, and the project is expected to be completed in 2013.

The development of rural fiber optic cable networks has recently become a significant issue for telecommunications companies. Some areas, such as rural North Carolina, have funded projects through a combination of federal grants and nonprofit fundraising. Another recent project in Maine, run by Time Warner, is being funded entirely by the company.


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