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Internet service may soon flow faster in New York state

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Bret Jaspers WSKG
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Despite the importance of the internet to our daily lives, service can be unreliable, slow, or expensive, especially in rural areas. Local governments and businesses are waiting on details of how they can apply for $500 million of state money - money that will be used, with private sector dollars, for broadband infrastructure projects.

More and more people think of the internet as a utility, like water or electricity. And just like water pressure or electric voltage, the quality of the service matters. You wouldn't consider a faucet that only drips water to be proper service. Same goes for your internet.

Claire Allen lives in Waverly and recently got fiberoptic internet service installed in her house. Though she mainly uses the internet for email and Facebook, she has high expectations for the kind of service she needs. "I want it fast," she said. "Because I don't have time to waste."

It's a good thing for Allen, then, that her village of Waverly, New York, has access to fiberoptic internet service. Fiber refers to fiberoptic cables that transmit information via light. Fiber internet is faster than copper wires, more durable, and can handle a larger volume.

Frank Pilling is Vice President and General Manager of Empire Access, a telecommunications company that's steadily expanding its fiber service to small towns from Northern Pennsylvania to Batavia, New York--west of Rochester. He says that providing residential service in small towns like Waverly is worth it to his company. "Its a huge number of homes that we pass as we build a mile of fiber," he said. "And the cost of building a mile of fiber here is the same as the farmlands of Pennsylvania."

Like any infrastructure, fiber is expensive to install. So not everyone lives in a place where they can get it; Pilling says it costs about $25,000 dollars to put in one mile. Others put the cost even higher. Businesses sometimes pay a telecom company to install cables to connect them. But residential customers can't really afford the fee to lay or string cables, which can be in the thousands of dollars.

Big Flats Supervisor Ed Fairbrother says that his town of almost 8,000 people enticed Empire Access to bring fiber to homes there with a small business loan and other incentives. But he says about a third of his town still doesn't have access to fiber, so their internet is likely much slower.

Fairbrother is looking to the state's broadband program to help. But he also says that it doesn't make sense to install it everywhere. "There’s areas of need," he said, but "there’s some that it would be a waste of money to put it out there."

Both companies and towns will be able to apply for the state money to pay for high broadband installation costs--whether its a fiber, copper, or other kind of infrastructure. The state has yet to finalize the details, but says it will look for projects that are worth the expense. But with its goal of Broadband for All by 2018, New York seems to say that fast internet, like water, is just something people should have.

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