SCHOHARIE — Connection secured.
Schoharie recently became the first village in its namesake county to offer free WiFi throughout the downtown business district. The five-year service is buoyed by COVID-19 federal relief funds from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act, siphoned by the state.
Schoharie Mayor Larry Caza deems the project a milestone for the locale following years-long challenges induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene. A number of low-to-moderate income residents lacked the digital infrastructure to ease struggles of the time.
“A lot of times we didn’t know if the village was going to come back and I’m very happy to say that I think we have come back,” said Caza, who first entered office in 2019 and previously served as trustee for 12 years. “Now we’re trying to take it a step further and provide connectivity for people.”
The new infrastructure consists of several utility poles connected by a fiber optic cable on Main Street. Network strength is highest for about five blocks between Prospect and Bridge streets and roughly 600 feet from the village thoroughfare.
Testing started in late fall and continued into the early half of this year.
Midtel won an $85,000 bid to take on the project last May. The Middleburgh-based telecommunications firm, in 2020, installed free WiFi services inside Blenheim, Broome, Summit, Wright and Fulton town halls, as well as two volunteer fire departments.
Schoharie County and the Schoharie Economic Enterprise Corporation spearheaded efforts to obtain financial support for free WiFi via the state Homes and Community Renewal program more than a year ago. Projects of this magnitude typically take a long time to come to fruition, said Bill Federice, chair of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors.
“Residents can rely on this internet access to attend public meetings, apply for jobs, meet with their healthcare provider, enjoy virtual classes and online social activities,” said SEEC Director Julie Pacatte in a statement.
In a separate grant submission to the state’s NY Forward program last year for $5 million, the village requested augmented reality technology, which would allow visitors to view historic sites with additional context presented via smartphone. Sidewalk and parking improvement project funding had also been requested.
The village did not secure that funding this round, but funding from that program was secured by three other Mohawk Valley villages: Dolgeville ($2.25 million), Cooperstown ($4.5 million) and Sharon Springs ($2.25 million).
Caza plans to continue pitching for additional means to expand and advance the public WiFi system within the 1.6-square-mile municipality. The current signal reaches some 800 residents and 400 households.
“As more and more money is allocated for WiFi, broadband and what have you, we have a central network set up,” Caza said. “If that can expand over the future, we have the infrastructure in place to add beacons if it’s possible to bring it out further.”
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.