KEENE - A grass-roots effort to expand broadband Internet access in the town of Keene is fast becoming a reality.
Together with nearly $200,000 in private donations, a $100,000 state economic development grant secured by state Sen. Elizabeth Little is fueling a plan to bring high-speed Internet to 90 percent of Keene homes using state-of-the-art fiber optic technology.
The funds come three years after the High Peaks Education Foundation launched an effort to renovate and expand the network infrastructure of Keene Valley Video, or KVVI, the town's primary Internet service provider.
Prior to the new fiber optic technology, KVVI already supplied broadband to about 500 homes on up to 30 miles of coaxial cable. That's roughly 60 percent of all the homes in town, but it did not provide the critical mass needed for KVVI, a locally-owned company, to sustain its Internet service.
Outside funding was needed to make expansion feasible because homes outside the service area are so sparse, but community members rallied with financial support and rejoiced when the state grant was secured.
"There is a great degree of positive energy in this town right now about this project," said town supervisor Bill Ferebee. "Major areas are being wired that never have had access to anything but dial-up before."
KVVI network engineer John LaFountain explained that, unlike other mediums, the fiber optic lines can extend up to 12 miles without having to have their signal strength boosted by additional electronics. With virtually no homes outside that 12-mile radius, fiber optics offer both an efficient and effective solution.
Project co-director Jim Herman said KVVI has been a crucial ally in the project, contributing nearly $200,000 worth of its own funds and labor.
"In the past few weeks, fiber has been strung that extends the network to pass by over 120 new homes," added Ferebee. "We are extremely grateful to Senator Little for her assistance in making this possible."
Little was on hand May 21 as community leaders announced the funding to town residents.
"I believe in broadband," she said. "I believe this is what's going to keep communities in the Adirondacks sustainable."
It's that hope for sustainability that community leaders are counting on for a community with so few year-round residents.
"With these modern services, people can work from home at remote jobs," said Herman, "something often referred to as telecommuting."
"This is the kind of economic development that is well suited to the Adirondack Park because it reduces the amount that people must drive to and from work and it requires no industrial facilities," said project co-director Dave Mason.
Herman and Mason hope that the expanded internet service will attract and retain more residents, both part-time and year-round, creating more business for local merchants and increasing enrollment at Keene Central School.
"Greater availability of good jobs will enable more young families to live here and take advantage of our award-winning school," said KCS superintendent Cynthia Johnston, who added that reaching more homes with broadband will give students in the community greater educational opportunity.
Though another $150,000 in additional funds are needed to connect the final 150 homes, Mason and Herman are optimistic for federal grants and additional private contributions to help the project reach its ultimate goal.
"We hope to get done soon to be able to serve as a role model for other towns in the area," said Herman, "both for how to get this work done and to show real benefits to the community after the wires are in place."