As Chris Morris reports, the organizers hope their project will serve as a model for other communities in the region.
Several regional coalitions successfully lobbied for federal stimulus monies last year in order to establish broadband internet service for rural areas of the North Country.
Officials hope that universal broadband access will attract families and young people to the Adirondack North Country, where – like many rural areas of the country – the population is steadily aging.
But in the Essex County town of Keene, a grassroots effort successfully established high-speed internet access without the help of federal dollars – and the project could serve as a model for other communities in the Adirondacks.
Two of the men behind the effort presented their project to the Adirondack Park Agency Board of Commissioners Thursday morning.
David Mason and Jim Herman are the co-directors of the Keene New York Town-Wide Broadband Internet Project. The duo started out four years ago to bring universal broadband internet service to their community.
Herman says the goal was to make broadband internet available to approximately 1,000 homes and businesses in Keene and Keene Valley. “We started out this project with the vision of universal service,” he said. “We believe that broadband internet should be something that every home and business in the town of Keene – and in general – should have. And as we looked into the possibilities, we came up with the specific goal of getting that service to 90 percent of homes and businesses in town.”
Herman says universal access throughout the town of Keene would have been nearly impossible – with many homes in the area being off the grid or seasonal.
But they wouldn’t back down from their goal of making high-speed internet readily available for all students. Herman says good internet access is a critical tool for students in rural areas. “A student going through school today, preparing to enter the workforce or preparing to enter college, must have good skills in using the resources on the internet today,” he said. “And you’re not going to get that from just using the computer lab twice a week at school.”
The two men started by drumming up community support for the project. They reached out to teachers, parents, school administrators, and local businesses – and the response was overwhelming.
A grassroots effort took hold, and the project raised about $586,000 – with 42 percent coming through private donations.
Using existing structures and with the help of a local Internet Service Provider – Keene Valley Video and Internet – the project came to fruition.
Now, Keene’s broadband internet network has been extended to 90 percent of homes and businesses. Herman says funds were used to refurbish the aging coaxial network and build out into new areas of town using fiber-to-the-home technology.
Mason, like many broadband experts, says the economic benefits of expanding high-speed internet access in the Adirondack Park could be huge. “Economically, it has no adverse impact whatsoever on the surrounding environment,” he said.
He adds that the Keene project largely utilized existing infrastructure.
For residents of the park, Mason says broadband opens doors to online employment, and it allows visitors to extend their stay. “With respect to the seasonal community, which is a hugely important part of our economy, these people can stay longer,” he said. “They can make a four-day weekend instead of coming late Friday and rushing home late Sunday. So they’re here longer, they spend more money, and put more money into the pockets of people who live here.”
Following the presentation, APA Chairman Curt Stiles said that broadband could be the spark that the Adirondack economy so desperately needs.
Commissioner Art Lussi said the Keene project could serve as a model for other Adirondack municipalities. “I believe this serves as a model to small communities in the park – where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said. “But we all know that successful projects need innovate and determined leaders to do that. And their enthusiasm got this done.”
Nason and Herman said they will make themselves available to other communities – like Saranac Lake – where similar efforts to expand broadband access are already under way.