Bringing high-speed internet to the rural Catskills

Last week, Bethia Waterman, who lives on Rose Mountain Road in Shandaken, looked outside and wondered why two 4×4 vehicles were traversing her property. When she stalked out to demand an explanation, a husky young man with an Ohio drawl told her, “We’re bringing you fiber optic, ma’am.” She was pretty sure that meant she was going to get high-speed Internet — at last.

While most of the U.S. surfs and streams over Internet lines that we take for granted, residents of hard-to-access pockets of the country have never had cable service. For 60 households in western Shandaken, life is about to change, thanks to state funding and MTC, the Margaretville Telephone Company, based in neighboring Delaware County.

Back when Time-Warner had charge of cable in the township, the company extended its lines halfway up Rose Mountain Road and then stopped. Waterman, her neighbors, and residents in other isolated areas, such as Upper Birch Creek Road in Pine Hill, lobbied the town board for more service. Waterman also wrote to Time-Warner, which informed her they could build out to her house, but she would have to pay them $25,000. 

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For a while, she had that dinosaur known as dial-up, via MTC. In 2011, a partial federal grant came through that allowed her to install an Internet satellite dish through Hughesnet. “It doesn’t have the speed necessary for downloading and streaming,” Waterman said. “It’s constantly buffering, being interrupted. The basic plan had a 200-megabyte download allowance. I increased that amount.”

Nevertheless, when her daughter visited for a weekend with friends, their iPhones updating every few minutes, the allowance was rapidly gobbled up. Once someone tried to watch a movie and drained the available monthly bytes. Waterman’s daughter, a Wall Street Journal editor, can’t work at the house because she needs such frequent Internet access. 

If Waterman wants to watch a movie at home, she orders a DVD from the library. When it snows, Waterman has to clear off the dish. And forget about cell service. On a good day, she can send and receive texts, but for calls, she sticks to the landline unless she’s out of town. She thinks wistfully of using the GPS locally. Not that cable service will address the cell phone issue.

Waterman has continued to meet with town and county officials annually. In recent years, rumors circulated that the state and federal governments were making funds available to address “underserved areas” of the country where communications companies have not found it economically viable to extend cable and cell service. Last October, it was announced that New York State was at last following through on this promise, and the town board voted to sign a non-exclusive franchise agreement with MTC to deliver Internet service to western Shandaken.

Then, with no further warning, five months later, the 4×4’s. 

“We’re entering our final construction phase,” Glen Faulkner, general manager of MTC, said on March 11. “On Rose Mountain, we needed new utility poles for the additional wires, and some poles needed replacement prior to our construction. Services should be available within the next 30 days or so. We will be sending out notifications to those residents.” Also included will be Upper Birch Creek Road, the lower end of Route 42, and other dead spots.

The final phase of the state-funded project will be to build out to the Town of Hardenburgh, which should be completed by end of this year. “After that,” said Faulkner, “we would look at possibilities for expansion that make sense. If there are some businesses that believe they are underserved, we might look to find a solution for them.”

A longer-term goal is to extend a trunk fiber down into the Kingston area along the Route 28 corridor to interconnect with another fiber optic provider. (The Town of Olive, another underserved area, should take note.) MTC also plans to build along the Route 42 corridor up into Lexington to create a redundancy loop, a backup in case of failure along the lines.

As for the choice to install fiber optic, which is made of glass instead of copper, Faulkner said, “It’s future-proof. We don’t offer anything significantly different from a traditional cable network, but we’ll have higher capacity and will be able to adapt to new services in the future. Fiber optic is more economical to maintain over time, has less electronic components, and is a greener technology that requires less energy consumption. We only want to build it once.”

The services will be totally independent of Spectrum, the successor to Time-Warner Cable. MTC offers Internet, TV, and phone, as Spectrum does, but Internet speeds will potentially be faster over the fiber optic lines. 

Waterman remarked, “I’m hoping to get a stronger and faster signal. This will allow me to join the rest of the modern world that spends every evening watching Netflix.” She sounds relieved, excited, but perhaps slightly apprehensive. 

Today fiber optic cable, tomorrow cell service? We’ll have to wait and see.

There is one comment

  1. Donna Graham

    “Tomorrow cell service” is no longer an abstraction for those of us who live in pockets without cell towers. It is a life-and-death issue. On Route 212, starting with Bearsville, there is no service, thanks to determined pressure by so-called environmentalists. Why they have no objection to towers serving the other half of Woodstock is a mystery. But all is takes is one death on 212 because no one could call for help on a cell phone – and the town may well be bankrupted by the family. It doesn’t have to come to tragedy to include us all.

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