August 9, 2021 by Julie Abbass

LOWVILLE — The Lewis County Planning Department successfully cornered funds to bring broadband internet to more than 1,000 unserved homes in Lewis County.

Executive Director Casandra Buell and her team were notified on Monday that the $263,000 grant application they filed in May with the Northern Border Regional Commission has been approved.

Fixed wireless infrastructure will be used by mounting a 5G wireless antennae on one of the three existing towers on County Route 194 near Hayes Road.

“By installing antennas on this one tower, we can possibly hit 1,173 (homes and businesses) in the town of Denmark with service,” Mrs. Buell said, “We also worked-in a few (internet) hotspots in the village of Copenhagen.”

Because the antennae will reach homes within a 10-mile radius, some Jefferson County residents will also benefit from the grant.

Denmark was identified as being “completely underserved or not served at all” with broadband coverage in the survey of broadband inventory conducted earlier this year as part of the county’s larger broadband study.

Mrs. Buell said 90 towers that are part of the county’s 911 system, most of which are owned by the county, were considered as a cost-effective mount for the antennae. The one that was deemed acceptable that is part of that system is leased and not owned by the county but the tallest and most ideal tower is not owned or leased by the county. The planning team has started reaching out to that tower’s owner, Public Broadcasting Services, for its use.

“We wanted to utilize fixed wireless technology because let’s face it, fiber infrastructure is extremely expensive. We wanted to get the best bang for our buck,” said Mrs. Buell.

Now that funding is confirmed, the planning department will work with the Development Authority of the North Country, DANC — the organization tasked by Northern Border to provide support for grant recipients — to implement their plan.

After the tower to be used is finalized and DANC orders and purchases the Ericsson antennae, Mrs. Buell hopes to “hit the ground running” in early October with a preliminary engineering study and a wireless engineering plan which will include considering the placement of more antennae in the future.

The call for bids from internet service providers is expected to go out around mid-November and construction is likely to begin by the beginning of 2022 and be completed in about 30 days according to the project plan.

To entice service providers to the project, the winning company will not have to pay rent for the use of the towers for the first three years and the grant funding includes wireless equipment for 200 homes.

“More people will sign-on with no up-front costs which will also increase odds of better packages,” Mrs. Buell said.

Community survey responses indicated that county residents are not willing to pay more money for better internet.

The plan for this project was made with the help of Colonie-based Hudson Valley Wireless, a company with experience in the use of this particular wireless technology for providing service to communities without reliable broadband access.

In the Lewis County Board’s August meeting last week, Mrs. Buell received approval to apply for up to $10 million in funding from the National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s broadband infrastructure program for a project to bring broadband to more of the county in partnership with Charter Communications.

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