Saugerties officials brainstorm ways to bring broadband to rural residents

In what may be the beginnings of a municipal effort to expand Internet access to unconnected areas of Saugerties, local officials have been talking with communities that have established their own web service infrastructure.

Although plans are still very much in an early phase, Town Supervisor Fred Costello believes that the project could be completed within a few years.

“For a long time we’ve been trying to help our residents who don’t have access to broadband and need help with Internet services,” Costello said this week. “We have not been able to get to a point where we think that we have been as helpful as we can or should be. The county has been a help to try to secure help from state aid to fill the gaps, but those efforts have not been fruitful. I’ve become aware of communities like Greenfield, Mass. and Keene, N.Y. that have set up their own Internet service providers.”

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Costello said resident Beth Murphy has reached out to John Lunt, who manages Greenfield’s ISP, and got some positive feedback. “[Lunt’s] experience has been very helpful to us and made us think that this is a real possibility,” said Costello.

The supervisor said he envisions a service provided by a not-for-profit which would be controlled locally and “won’t necessarily be driven by economics.” He noted that other ISPs, like Verizon and Spectrum, exist to make money and therefore often pass over less-populated areas. “That doesn’t help someone that lives on a rural road in Saugerties, and we want to give them opportunities as well. If we control that locally, we can provide the most coverage because there won’t be a profit motive,” Costello said.

Greenfield set up its own telecommunications infrastructure in 2015 after the community lost an opportunity to headquarter a large high-tech start up due to its inadequate broadband in 2011. Keene started such a system in 2010.

“We’re hoping to contact [representatives in] Keene to understand regulatory issues as it pertains to New York State,” said councilman Mike MacIsaac. He also stressed that, at least initially, this initiative would only cover Internet services, not cable or telephone.

“I believe that telecommunication companies have profits in mind and not the best interest of the consumer — they want to make the most profits possible and they have lobbyists in D.C. Costs have gone up — the main reason [to start an ISP] is to get faster Internet for cheaper, said MacIsaac, who added that there’s a lot to take in when planning such an endeavor.

“What must be considered are political and organizational issues, financial considerations, technical, regulatory and legal issues,” he said. “Communities that have done this have been able to make the costs taxpayer-neutral. Residents only pay if they sign up for an Internet subscription. This would be a huge undertaking, and there are many ways that it could become derailed, but if it is successful, the upside for Saugerties will be huge.”

There are 4 comments

  1. Susan H

    I currently live in Shutesbury, MA which is south of Greenfield, MA. Shutesbury is very much a rural town with plenty of dirt roads and a lake where the internet doesn’t always reach. There is at least one hub in town that reached maximum capacity years ago(Verizon). A dedicated team of townsfolk have been working on obtaining fiber internet for all citizens for a number of years. From what I understand, this technology is coming in 2019(we’ll see!). The town of Shutesbury has gone the route of state involvement with grants and also state control, but the process is taking longer than say the neighboring rural town of Leverett who paid for their own service. It took a relatively short period of time for Leverett to set up their fiber network.

    Unfortunately, I won’t be able to benefit from the upgrade to fiber as I am moving back to the town of Hurley this summer. I hope the town of Hurley government has a change of heart in regards to implementing fiber in its community(I recently read that it wasn’t possible at this time).

    Here in western MA, the fiber goes up interstate 91 and branches off from there. Is that how it works in Ulster County, by way of the NY Thruway? If so, then towns nearby such as Saugerties, Hurley, West Hurley would be able to obtain it.

  2. Steven L Fornal

    Excellent pro-active approach as the big companies are simply unwilling to fulfill their charge under the 1996 FCC Telecommunications Act which disallowed localities from hindering the “build out” of wireless technologies. As it turns out the companies used this law to get footholds where ever they felt it would be profitable and then rather than expand coverage (as was the premise of the Act) expanded services to what coverage was already provided.

    Once again we see how big money/corporations use the Federal Government to increase profits while completely ignoring the intent of the law vis-a-vis bringing coverage to all.

    Saugerties is setting the trend re forward thinking on the issue. Good job! Very interested on where this goes.

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