Sullivan County gives broadband LDC $2 million

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 2/22/22

MONTICELLO, NY — There are times when the wheels of government turn slowly. There are other times (strange as it seems) when those wheels speed up, when needed projects come together in the …

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Sullivan County gives broadband LDC $2 million

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MONTICELLO, NY — There are times when the wheels of government turn slowly. There are other times (strange as it seems) when those wheels speed up, when needed projects come together in the nick of time.

The Sullivan Broadband Local Development Corporation (LDC) has experienced both speeds of government.

The LDC was founded late in 2020 with the goal of providing wireless broadband service across the entire county. To do that, it planned to outfit the county’s public safety broadcast towers with equipment to transmit a wireless broadband signal, and to build out a network of secondary towers to extend that signal into underserved areas.

Once the system was up and running, households and businesses throughout Sullivan County could subscribe to the LDC’s service, with LDC-provided antennas receiving its wireless signal. But first, the LDC needed to outfit the county’s towers with the equipment necessary to broadcast that signal, and for that, it needed money.

The LDC looked first to get that money from state or federal sources. It applied for around $2 million from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) on December 16, 2020, with hopes that it would hear back soon.

Over a year later, the LDC is still waiting.

“Nothing’s been awarded,” said legislator Michael Brooks, who serves as the Sullivan County Legislature’s representative on the LDC “Just the other day I signed a document for the third time waiting for this money.”

Brooks was speaking at a February 10 meeting of the legislature’s public works committee, making a plea that the county fund $2 million worth of equipment for the LDC (an amount that the LDC would, ultimately, repay).

The problem with waiting—and the reason why Brooks brought the LDC’s request to the legislature—was one of timing. The LDC might still get its EDA grant; its application had not been denied. But the process of ordering equipment, arranging for crews to install it and the like took time, and if the LDC didn’t start that process soon, it could miss the 2022 construction season.

According to Lorne Green, the county’s IT services commissioner and a member of the LDC, the equipment came from a firm in Israel, and aside from a certain amount of stock that was already in the US, “We’re looking at [a] three- to six-month lead time. If you’re ordering now, you’re looking at three to six months before you start installing, which puts you well into the summer.”

With the need identified, the legislature agreed to draft a resolution for the next week’s executive committee meeting, providing the LDC with its requested $2 million in funding.

The wheels of government turning

The LDC board met the next week, on Wednesday, February 16, to discuss technical updates on the broadband project and the LDC’s request for funding.

Three of the project’s proposed towers had progress underway, said Green. The Monticello tower remained complete; the tower sites at East Broadway and Liberty were under environmental review, and after review the LDC could go out and bid for tower construction.

“Other than that, everything else hinges on funding,” Green said.

Brooks said he had gotten an overall-positive sense from legislators about funding for the LDC, and mentioned that the resolution would go before the executive committee the next day.

Legislators retained their positive sense of the LDC and its aims during discussion in that February 17 executive committee meeting. Before they signed over $2 million, however, they asked a thorough round of questions about the LDC’s broadband service.

Legislator Joe Perrello asked if there was a cost analysis for the project: would it be able to pay the county back?

The LDC had taken care of that since day one, said Green: “I’m extremely conservative when I propose a project.” He offered a few figures: if 10 percent of the county’s potential customers signed up, each tower would make around $200,000 a year; the tentative subscription model for the service would include two tiers, one at $49.99 and one at $69.99; while the signal would start at around 100 mbps, it could go up to 200 mbps and (once 5G technology was implemented) even up to 400 mbps.

Legislator Luis Alvarez asked about the potential public safety implications for the project. Could patrol cars connect to the LDC’s network? Could police officers use the network to call for backup in places where they currently could not?

Legislator Nadia Rajsz asked as well that the LDC focus its efforts on the Upper Delaware River corridor, an area of the county where service is especially lacking and especially needed in emergency scenarios.

Neither were an immediate focus of the LDC’s efforts, said Brooks and Green, but both were on the LDC’s mind for future stages of the broadband initiative.

The conversation ultimately came back around to the speed of the operation. “Bottom line: we give you $2 million… when is this going to happen?” asked legislative chair Robert Doherty.

Green said that all of the towers would be up and running within two years, which would cover around 65 percent of the county. Afterwards, the LDC could start expanding beyond that coverage, installing secondary towers in underserved areas to reach full county-wide coverage.

The legislature approved funding the LDC with a unanimous vote.

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