The middle mile.
The costly distance for internet companies where there are too many miles and too few customers.
For the past five years, Susquehanna County leaders have been working on a way to increase connectivity in the more rural areas. The focus, since the project’s inception, has “been in providing a dark fiber middle mile network that would allow service providers to hook up customers without taking on the bulk of the build-out costs.
Progress Authority Vice President of Community Development Chris Brown explained that the infrastructure project would allow internet providers to get from one municipality to the next “without having to build it. It’s expensive to build, with little return on that investment.”
The Progress Authority acts as the economic development arm for the county and has taken point in planning the broadband project.
The county received ARC grant funds for the project planning, with the county putting up $100,000 in matching funds for the grant to plan the dark fiber network.
“The plan allows us to apply for additional funding to actually build the middle mile network,” Brown said.
While some areas of the county have exceptional highspeed internet, other areas lag far behind.
Brown said that on the eastern side of the county, NEP has invested well offering “phenomenal service” and – being a locally owned company – understands the needs of the rural areas.
The western side of the county, however, has limited highspeed internet coverage, “if any,” Brown said.
“All of this was made even more apparent by Covid,” said Brown.
Federal funds, to be administered for broadband projects by the state, are being made available through competitive grant applications.
“Susquehanna County had the foresight to plan for this,” Brown said, which should work to make the county’s application for funding strong.
Brown said the county’s main focus is on shoring up the network for public safety purposes. The tower network, utilizing the planned, redundant dark fiber loops, will help with the county’s information system.
After public safety, the middle mile loops will allow provider companies to bring highspeed internet service to homes and businesses.
The county’s plan works in conjunction with Claverack’s Revolution Broadband service, Brown said. The county project would save expenditures for the cooperative, and allow the to move into more rural areas sooner.
The proposed first loop would connect county buildings and move to the western portion of the county. The entire countywide project is expected to take up to seven years.