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.”
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.”