May 24, 2017

Bill In Congress Would Expand Broadband Service In North Country

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Bill In Congress Would Expand Broadband Service In North Country

Originally printed at

October 3, 2016

It can be very expensive for service providers like Westelcom in Watertown to bring high speed Internet to every corner of the north country.

“It costs us $15,000 to $20,000 per mile to build out the fiber. If there’s only a couple of businesses or homes within that mile, then the cost per customer goes up,” said Paul Barton, president of Westelcom.

That’s why U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is co-sponsoring a bill to get more funds for companies that provide broadband service to rural areas.

Senator Gillibrand announced the bill while touring Westelcom’s Watertown facility on Monday.

“Every single business, family and farm in this county, in this state, need Internet access, and so this is fundamental. It’s as important as electricity. It’s as important as water,” said Gillibrand (D. – New York).

It’s called the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act.

It would provide grants of up to half of a project’s cost.

Up to 75 percent of the cost can be covered when combined with loans from the federal government.

“Funds like this allow us to be able to recoup the funds we spent on (providing) the customer access, so in reality, the customer is not spending a lot of money to get their devices installed in their homes,” said Jeff Beekhoo, CEO of Mohawk Networks.

The bill also includes projects on tribal lands like the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

“It’s very expensive, so we’re providing a technology that’s going to be easily accessible, very cheap, very reliable and it will just make sense for the customers for sure,” said Christopher Thompson, director of economic development for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

The bill would also double the funding of a federal program for utilities in rural areas to $50 million per year.