The Adirondacks are notably blank in this broadband availability map from broadbandmap.gov.
Broadband is a sore issue in the central Adirondacks, with few hot spots for high-speed to satisfy the needs and wants of businesses and individuals in the 21st century.
But following the first competitive funding applications under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic development councils, two projects to string fiber-optics into underserved population centers in the county should begin soon.
In the north, Slic Network Solutions, part of the Nicholville Telephone Co., was approved for a $596,000 grant to connect Tupper Lake, recently wired but not yet functional, down Route 30 and into Long Lake.
The other project will be led by Frontier Communication. That company provides about 90 percent of the county's internet, said Hamilton Industrial Development Agency Director Ann Melious. They'll get $472,000 for infrastructure upgrades to their service network.
Nicholville Telephone CEO Mark Dzwonczyk said the 23 miles of fiber-optics are an expensive installation, but more investment is needed to build out connections in the town center. There are also plans to use wireless repeaters to increase internet availability.
The hamlet of Long Lake is very lake-centric, said Hamilton Board of Supervisors Chair Bill Farber. The clear lines of sight around the lakeshore should allow Slic to use repeater towers rather than laying cable to move data around the area.
The North Country Regional Economic Development Council strategic plan estimates a total cost of $4.8 million to wire up the county.
Slic operates on a business model that doesn't make economic sense, said Dzwonczyk. The county has had to go without for so long because the cost of installing the information pipelines is simply too much for sparsely populated places like Hamilton County. They make it work through federal and state funding, like the economic council grant, he said.
“Six hundred thousand just for the initial installation,” said Dzwonczyk. “You can imagine it's pretty expensive on a per-person basis.”
The grant-funded installation will not only get broadband into Long Lake, but Dzwonczyk said they'll boast speeds well above the national average.
“It's more capacity than possibly the whole county can pump through,” he said.
On another rural install, in St. Lawrence County, Slic boasted speed tests on the connection of 105 megabits-per-second. He quantified that as 20 times the national average.
“It's a bit of hyperbole,” said Dzwonczyk.
Those speeds will be available to customers willing to pay a premium price, but the company will also offer more affordable connections with lower top speeds for those who don't need blisteringly fast internet.
Finally getting broadband into Hamilton County won't give a competitive advantage when the local Industrial Development Agency tries to attract jobs; it will simply level the playing field, said Melious.
“Talk to any economic developer in the country -- they will tell you that broadband access is baseline. Without it, you can't create jobs,” said Melious. “It's like water, sewer and power access.”
Second-home owners who visit in the fairer season are limited by the slow connectivity, said Farber. When the county gets its big influx of seasonal residents, the internet slows down as the traffic ramps up.
If those seasonal residents can't send an extra-large file online, or chime in on a video conference, they may have to head back to bigger cities with bigger internet capacities sooner. That means they're spending fewer dollars locally, said Farber.
Opening the tap on high-speed access removes a handicap the county's labored under in the new job market.
“There are people who would like to live where the schools are safe, recreation is readily available and the scenery is breath-taking,” wrote Melious in an e-mail. “We expose hundreds of thousands of people to Hamilton County as a result of our tourism promotion. Now we can convert some of those visitors into local business-owners. With broadband, these people can be connected globally.”
CORRECTION: Mark Dzwonczyk was attributed as president of Slic Networks. The attribution was changed Dec. 27 to CEO of Nicholville Telephone.