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Internet service to rural areas mulled

Internet service to rural areas mulled

The head of a Syracuse-based company told county supervisors Friday he can provide a new high-speed

The head of a Syracuse-based company told county supervisors Friday he can provide a new high-speed Internet and telephone service to rural customers throughout the county by the end of next year.

“Our technology uses the existing electric grid,” said Carmen N. Branca Jr., president of New Visions Powerline Communications.

The system, starting at $28.95 per month per subscriber, is already being hooked up in some Syracuse area suburbs in conjunction with National Grid and the village of Solvay municipal power company, according to Branca.

It requires New Visions to pay local power companies a franchise fee to use their lines.

Although not limited to Branca’s proposal, an eight-member county telecommunications task force is preparing to survey county residents to gauge interest in such a service, said Seward Supervisor Larry Phillips, who co-chairs the panel.

The committee, formed last year by county Board of Supervisors Chairman Earl Van Wormer III, met with Branca last month, Phillips said.

A survey to fill out online, or print out, is expected to be accessible via a link on the county’s Web site (www.schohariecounty-ny.gov) by early June, according to Stanley France, county data processing director and task force co-chairman.

The survey will also be distributed throughout the county, he said.

Cable companies such as Time Warner typically reach only to areas where enough customers are clustered to make adding cable cost-effective.

That has left many residents in sparsely populated rural areas limited to slow dial-up Internet service, expensive satellite hookup, or limited telephone company services.

Carlisle Supervisor Larry Bradt said efforts by town officials and local residents over the past two years to persuade Time Warner to resurvey costs to add unserved areas has drawn “no response” from the company.

“I believe there’s a great interest in your service,” Bradt told Branca. “The town of Carlisle would be interested in pursuing this. It’s really necessary,” he said.

Several other supervisors of rural towns also expressed interest.

National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella confirmed Friday that the utility is working with New Visions in the Solvay area, but details on the company’s expansion plans were not available Friday.

New Visions was awarded a $1.3 million state grant to develop the broadband over power line (BPL) system in western Onondaga County in March.

No county funds are being sought, Branca said.

If enough potential interest is found, Branca said the company would seek agreements with utility companies to go countywide.

Fast broadband Internet access was identified as a major need for business, farm and home users during an Economic Summit in April sponsored by Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce, county government, the Farm Bureau and educational institutions.

“It’s imperative that we in Schoharie County take a proactive approach to expanding broadband access,” said task force member Angela Kogler, who runs the information technology business UpstateNY IT out of her Seward area home.

“Nowadays people buy first and second homes based on [broadband] infrastructure,” Kogler said.

The BPL system uses utility power lines to transmit voice, data, and video communications, said Branca.

The service, which Branca claims is “50 times faster” than Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) services currently offered by telephone companies in some areas. “It is about three times faster than cable,” he said.

Compared to dial-up Internet connections, New Visions claims its service is 100 times faster.

A premium service, including unlimited voice telephone calling currently costs $56.90, plus taxes and fees. No contracts or installation charges would be required, according to Branca.

Subscribers would be provided with a computer modem that plugs into an electric outlet, Branca said. A small box of equipment would also be installed near power pole transformers typically serving one to several houses.

Branca said the BPL system might also help eliminate some dead spots for emergency service radios or cell phone networks.

Although electric power outages would interrupt the Internet link, telephone calls could still be made, Branca said.

The company is already available for about 6,000 homes served by the village of Solvay municipal power company, Branca said. He said he hopes to reach about 20,000 users on the National Grid system “within four months.”

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