Tompkins plan to bring high speed internet to rural areas nears completion

ITHACA, N.Y. – In 2010, the Tompkins County Legislature put together a committee with the goal of getting broadband service to the approximately 5,700 households without access to high speed internet.

The goal of the Tompkins and Cayuga Ubiquitous Last Mile Coverage Project was to bring broadband internet to 95 percent of the unserved households and businesses in the more rural areas of the county, where services like Time Warner Cable are not offered.

In 2013, a $2.2 million state grant was secured and Tompkins County collaborated with neighboring Cayuga County and local internet service provider Clarity Connect to execute on the project.

The project was originally targeted at seven Tompkins towns: Ulysses, Enfield, Newfield, Danby, Caroline, Groton, Lansing, as well as seven towns in Cayuga County.

However, the grant provided by the state wasn’t enough to cover the full cost and the project had to be pared back, cutting Enfield and Caroline. Enfield’s funding was eventually restored in full, and Caroline’s was partially restored with the help of private and local government contributions.

Although the funding is mostly in place, the project has faced delays due to the nature of the grant program. According to Clarity Connect president Chuck Bartosch, it’s taken up to five months to see some of the reimbursement payments from the state. While waiting for the money to come in, contractors working with Clarity Connect usually take on other work, which means they aren’t always available immediately once the funds come through.

In a February project update, Bartosch put the project at approximately 85 percent complete. Once the infrastructure is in place, it will still take time to get everyone service as each household needs an individual installation as well.

Bartosch explained that the company currently has around 1,000 households signed up for the service. “If we were able to schedule everyone who could be served and has signed up it would take well over a year to install the current list. We can currently add about 35 households a month. However, we are looking to triple that number or more with additional hires,” he said.

Bartosch said the company is actively hiring installers to help meet that need.

Another challenge for the project is simply reaching the people who could benefit from it. Bartosch said that Clarity was only able to schedule installations with about 30 percent of the people who signed up for the service. Additionally, many people may be in service area and not even realize it.

Coverage area for Tompkins Broadband project as of February 2016, indicated in pink. Households are indicated as blue dots. Image courtesy of Clarity Connect.

Coverage area for Tompkins Broadband project as of February 2016, indicated in pink. Households are indicated as blue dots. Image courtesy of Clarity Connect.

How it works

The project relies on telephone-pole style “towers” that provide wireless internet access to nearby homes and businesses. The service provides 6 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 2 Mbps upload speed, with no cap. The service costs around $40 a month with a one-time $200 installation fee.

While this is slower compared to similarly-priced offerings from major providers like Time Warner Cable — their “standard” service offers 15 mpbs download speeds — it’s still a boon for those who have been stuck with a dial-up connection. 6 Mpbs is roughly 100 times faster than maximum speeds for dialup modems.