As broadband stimulus applicants vie for federal funding, plenty of government entities across the country are moving ahead with public/private partnerships that extend broadband without the need for grant money from Uncle Sam.
In New York State, where 140 broadband stimulus projects were proposed seeking more than $1 billion (only California asked for more), one county expects to finish building a five-city fiber network around the time that stimulus recipients are getting their projects underway.
“Everybody’s got their hands out for stimulus,” said Ed Hemminger, chief information officer for Ontario County and chief executive officer of the non-profit entity the county created to build the fiber network. “I’ve already got [60 miles of fiber].”
Ontario County in New York State is building a 180-mile, 144-strand fiberoptic network that it will use internally to share resources among public entities as well as wholesale to private service providers, which the county believes will be motivated to bring broadband to rural areas once the cost of building the middle-mile fiber is taken out of the equation. Twelve strands will be dedicated toward use by local governments, and the rest will be leased to all comers.
“We built this as a public benefit to connect municipalities, letting the private sector bring competitors into the market place and provide low-cost connectivity to areas that never would have gotten connectivity in a million years,” Hemminger said.
Five service providers have already signed on to use the network, including two competitive local exchange carriers and three wireless operators: WavHost, Clarity Connect and Verizon Wireless. WiMax providers are evaluating the network as well.
The network, three rings strung along utility poles, will connect the towns of Victor, Canandaigua, Hopewell, Clifton Springs and Farmington. Hemminger imagines connecting area research centers, potentially even reaching the National Lambda Rail research network through its connection to Cornell University. And he imagines more rural public agencies using the network to share data platforms used by government agencies in larger towns – tax databases and visual mapping applications, for example.
Much of the funding for the $7.5-million project – begun in late 2005 — was made possible thanks to a natural gas company, Empire State Pipeline, whose pipeline goes through Ontario. The county initially put up $2.5 million – part of which was a loan and part payment for use of the network – and secured a $5-million bond.
Earlier this summer, one state senator did suggest securing federal grants to secure the estimated $2 million to $3 million it would take to link the network to all the county’s public-use facilities, from libraries to fire halls. But Hemminger said broadband stimulus rules would require Ontario County to match 20% of the stimulus award.