County estimates 7% residents can’t access broadband | News, Sports, Jobs

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A study shows that 7% of households in Chautauqua County can’t receive high speed internet.

In May 2022, the county Legislature agreed to spend $2.5 million to explore ways to expand broadband to unserved or underserved residents. As part of that spending, the county hired ECC Technologies as a consultant. ECC Technologies mapped the entire county to figure out who can and can’t get broadband.

Mark Geise, county Industrial Development Agency director and and deputy county executive for economic development, appeared at the legislature’s Planning and Economic Development Committee to give an update on the study.

According to Geise, there are 3,139 unserved households and 364 underserved for broadband in Chautauqua County. An underserved household is defined as having an internet speed of less than 100 megabits per second.

Geise said in a follow up interview that there are 53,050 households countywide, which is how he calculated the 7%.

There’s four major local carriers: DFT, Charter Communications, Windstream, and Consolidated Communications. Geise said the four companies are being asked to calculate what it would cost for them to serve the roughly 3,500 households with high speed internet, although other companies will be permitted to bid on the project as well.

Geise believes this will be a costly upgrade. “The $2.5 million is certainly not going to come close to doing that. In fact, I would say that what the carriers are willing to put in will not do it either, even if they put 50% in,” he said.

Because of this, Geise said they will be looking for federal funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Those funds are being given to states and then will flow to counties. “We want to get a piece of that, obviously,” he said.

Geise said because they have an idea where broadband is needed and will have price quotes from local internet providers, they will be in a good place to be eligible for those funds.

But if it ends up that the county doesn’t get those federal funds, they will look elsewhere.

Legislator David Wilfong, R-Jamestown, said some places may be believed to have reliable internet but isn’t truly reliable. “I work in the town of Harmony. We have internet, but if the wind blows … you can’t really count on it,” he said.

Geise acknowledged there are likelly some residents who are too far away to get them a cable for internet, and in those cases, they may later explore other options.

“We want to know what it will cost to run the cable to the house and then we can scale it back if we need to,” he said.

Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon, R-Ellery, believes the county will be eligible for broadband funding because of what ECC Technologies discovered.

“When they did the evaluation of Chautauqua County, they confirmed their belief that Chautauqua County is a high-need county, so they’re pretty bullish on securing state funding for this,” he said.

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