Broadband for Sullivan County?

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 5/25/22

MONTICELLO, NY — They say that seeing is believing. And with a bid to begin gathering interested customers, the Sullivan County Broadband LDC held a demonstration in the government offices in …

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Broadband for Sullivan County?

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MONTICELLO, NY — They say that seeing is believing. And with a bid to begin gathering interested customers, the Sullivan County Broadband LDC held a demonstration in the government offices in Monticello.

The LDC broadcast a wireless signal from the county’s Monticello cell tower, transmitting it to a receiver in the government building. That signal supported multi-device streaming without issue, said legislator and LDC representative Michael Brooks: “streaming a movie, watching a news channel [and] watching email.”

The LDC intends to bring that service to nearly 100 percent of Sullivan County. It’s the path toward that goal that remains bogged down with contracts and funding sources.

Government grants

The LDC was formed in 2020, aiming to supply broadband internet by broadcasting signals from the county’s public cell towers.

The LDC applied for funding from the federal Economic Development Agency on December 16, 2020. Over a year later with that grant not yet awarded, the LDC went to the county and requested $2 million to kickstart its operations, funding the placement of equipment on several of the county’s cell towers.

The county legislature awarded the LDC its funding on February 17; discussion indicated that timing was crucial; if the LDC didn’t start ordering equipment soon, it could miss the 2022 construction season.

A week or two after the legislature voted, the LDC heard back from the federal government about its grant application.

The government was asking for more information about certain parts of the application, said Brooks, parts that it hadn’t asked about before. “I thought to myself, ‘you know, if they’re looking at that now… maybe [we’re] getting close to an answer.’”

The grant only applies to specific parts of the broadband project, he said. “That grant is written specifically for the towers, the county towers. If we go ahead and start spending $2 million from the county on those—which we were gonna do—that money [from the federal government], we can’t use.”

The LDC ultimately decided to wait a few months to see if the federal government would come through with its funding. There will be a drop-dead date, after which the LDC will revert to using the county’s funding, said Brooks. While that date is not yet set, the LDC does plan on making it early enough to start construction this summer.

Contracts and contractors

The LDC is working on other aspects of its broadband project while it waits for funding.

The broadcast equipment is already installed and ready for use in the county’s Monticello tower. The LDC is working on contracts with its network provider and customer service provider, making ready to start providing service in that area.

The LDC also hired a lawyer to do an intellectual property search, making sure that its chosen name is available. That name has been cleared, said Brooks, and the LDC hopes to announce it in the near future.

Once everything starts getting up and running, the LDC will face a challenge entirely separate from the technical and financial aspects of the project: getting customers.

“Part of it’s going to have to be somehow [explaining] in a very clear and concise way what it means, because it’s so heavily marketed what you provide,” said Brooks.

The bandwidth is one aspect of that marketing. The signal the LDC plans to provide will start at 100 mbps, with potential for improvement as equipment gets upgraded down the line. The LDC’s competitors advertise bandwidth of 200 mbps and up.

The LDC will have to market its service to ensure customers know they can do all the things they need to do on its signal, said Brooks, a marketing that could involve a demonstration like the one it held in the government offices.

As of yet, the LDC has no firm timeline for when everything will be in order for interested customers to see and thereby believe.

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