CATSKILL — In a unique public-private partnership, Greene County lawmakers Monday authorized execution of three contracts with local internet service providers to assist with installation of high-speed fiber internet to unserved areas of the county.
Portions of the towns of Catskill, Durham, Windham, Ashland and Prattsville were defined as target areas by county officials, paying particular attention to the concentration of unserved roads on the mountaintop.
The contracts provide $2.2 million in funding to Mid-Hudson Cable, Margaretville Telephone Company and Charter Communications to support the installation.
“Greene County is able to make this important infrastructure investment with a portion of the federal funding it received under the American Rescue Plan Act,” county Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said Tuesday. “It will put no additional burden on our taxpayers and provide access to a service that is essential to how we live, work and learn.”
The Greene County departments of Planning and Economic Development and Real Property Tax Services solicited proposals from internet service providers interested in performing the installation.
“As part of the process, the county joined forces with the local internet service providers to inventory and map the proverbial last mile of unserved roads and households without internet access,” Linger said.
Under the contract agreements, the county will contribute $2.2 million to fund the installation of high-speed fiber internet to about 1,400 addresses over 112 miles of unserved roads. The service providers will continue to build out roads with high-speed internet in their normal course of business to about 725 addresses over 47 miles of road.
With the completion of this work, virtually all existing Greene County addresses that have on-the-grid electric service will have access to high-speed internet, the Legislature said in a statement.
“Data sharing, partnerships with our local internet service providers and a tailored approach suited to rural counties proved to be the key to making this happen,” Deputy Greene County Administrator Warren Hart said Tuesday.
Legislator Linda Overbaugh, R-Catskill, who chairs the county’s Economic Development Committee, said the installation will attract businesses and remote workers to Greene County in an unprecedented way.
“Fiberoptic broadband enables people to work from anywhere that has connectivity,” she said. “Businesses seeking to relocate or expand in our communities can now be confident that they will have access to this service that is so critical to their operations.”
High-speed broadband that is reliable and affordable has been a top concern of the Greene County Legislature for years.
“The realities of remote learning became painfully apparent in the response to the pandemic,” Majority Leader Matthew Luvera, R-Catskill, said. “As a local educator, I experienced first-hand the difficulties associated with online teaching. The success of this effort is a huge step in giving families the necessary tools to access the internet from home and help bring success to their children in school.”
Margaretville Telephone Company General Manager Glen Faulkner said there is strong agreement on the need to provide ubiquitous broadband availability to all residents.
“The Greene County broadband initiative has brought together the local service providers with a desire to work collaboratively, leverage the benefits of public-private partnerships, find cost-effective and timely solutions for extending broadband services to these rural areas,” Faulkner said.
Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden credited the preliminary work, service providers and timely federal funding for the success of the initiative.
“The county literally researched and mapped every road, providing the internet service providers exact addresses and locations,” Groden said. “It was an unprecedented collaboration between government and private business. And the availability of ARPA funds made this the perfect opportunity to invest in our infrastructure.”
Minority Leader Harry Lennon, D-Cairo, said it became necessary for the county to merge with the times instead of lagging behind them.
“Telecommunications and broadband service have transformed the way people, public organizations and companies communicate, educate, work and live,” he said. “Broadband and the fiberoptic backbones that support it have undeniably become the ‘interstate highway’ of the 21st century.”
Rachel Puckett, executive administrator and director of broadband development for Mid-Hudson Cable, said working with Greene County and the other service providers to identify the areas left behind was a unique and personal experience.
“We all had the common goal of ensuring high-speed broadband internet was made available to unserved areas in Greene County,” she said. “Mid-Hudson’s goal along with Greene County’s was to work toward closing the broadband gap that the county is facing.”
Charter Communications has connected 230 Greene County homes and small businesses since 2018.
“In partnership with the county, including its economic development department, families will have access to gigabit speeds that facilitate remote work and learning,” Charter Group Vice President for State Government Affairs Camille Joseph said.
The contracts will include a timetable for construction. Meanwhile, the service providers will continue their existing network extensions as well as the build-out of fiber optic lines using county funds in the 2023 and 2024 construction seasons.
The construction schedule will be dictated by the requirements of the local utility companies including engineering, surveying, licensing and pole replacement. Construction may also be affected by the challenges of supplies, inflation and labor.