WESTPORT - Despite promises of stimulus funding for expanding broadband access in rural areas, the effect it will bring to the Adirondack region is still yet to be determined.
The broadband expansion has $7.2 billion earmarked nationwide. That money will be available to eligible communications companies in the form of grants and low-interest loans.
Reportedly, several hundred thousand of those funds are earmarked specifically for both Clinton and Essex counties, but the practical nuance surrounding their application is largely a mystery.
Jim Forcier, owner of Chazy-Westport Telephone Company and Westelcom, said the funds would do little to serve his customers since all of them already have access to broadband.
"There isn't a person in Westport, Wadhams, Chazy, West Chazy, or Chateaugay that can't get at least a 3-meg broadband connection," Forcier stated.
For those services that don't yet offer broadband to all their customers, he said the stimulus funds had the potential to be very helpful. Still, he's skeptical it will have a significant effect on consumers.
"I'm concerned with the whole process in that it's not going to bring broadband to places that don't already have it, other than a few pockets here and there," Forcier said.
"I think it will do some good," he added. "I'm just not sure how."
At present, the U.S. ranks 15th internationally in broadband development, according to studies conducted by the United Nations. New York State is in the bottom third among the states.
"Broadband has now become a necessary piece of infrastructure - now it is sewer, water and broadband," said Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, Feb. 25.
Sayward said broadband access would greatly increase the quality of life for Adirondack residents and would open limitless opportunities for economic development. She added expanded broadband access would also result in tourists staying longer.
"People like Westport because they have the broadband capability," said Forcier, noting how many second-home owners enjoy the freedom it gives them to work from home in a rural setting.
Stimulus funds are supposedly meant for "unserved" or "underserved" areas. However, the agencies in charge of their administration have yet to come up with a specific definition for those terms, meaning it may be weeks before communication companies can even apply for the money.
That includes Verizon, which operates communications networks throughout much of the rest of Clinton and Essex counties.
"We're always exploring areas and looking into how we can deploy more broadband," said Verizon NY spokesman Jon Bonomo, "but there hasn't been any rules laid out yet for the grant program."
Since Verizon has yet to receive any funding from the federal stimulus, Bonomo said it was too early to tell what kind of additions, if any, there would be to the company's broadband network in the Adirondack region.
If there is significant expansion to broadband access in the region, Forcier suspects it will come mostly in the form of large-scale wireless Internet. He pointed to the efforts of CBN Connect, a local broadband nonprofit carrier that has expressed interest in developing infrastructure in Warren and Essex counties.
"That could realistically be the pipe network to get to different towns and villages," Forcier said, "but you still need to go that last mile to the customers. There's no way CBN can do that."