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Broadband expansion uncertain despite stimulus funds

WESTPORT - Despite promises of stimulus funding for expanding broadband access in rural areas, the effect it will bring to the Adirondack region is still yet to be determined.

The broadband expansion has $7.2 billion earmarked nationwide. That money will be available to eligible communications companies in the form of grants and low-interest loans.

Reportedly, several hundred thousand of those funds are earmarked specifically for both Clinton and Essex counties, but the practical nuance surrounding their application is largely a mystery.

Jim Forcier, owner of Chazy-Westport Telephone Company and Westelcom, said the funds would do little to serve his customers since all of them already have access to broadband.

"There isn't a person in Westport, Wadhams, Chazy, West Chazy, or Chateaugay that can't get at least a 3-meg broadband connection," Forcier stated.

For those services that don't yet offer broadband to all their customers, he said the stimulus funds had the potential to be very helpful. Still, he's skeptical it will have a significant effect on consumers.

"I'm concerned with the whole process in that it's not going to bring broadband to places that don't already have it, other than a few pockets here and there," Forcier said.

"I think it will do some good," he added. "I'm just not sure how."

At present, the U.S. ranks 15th internationally in broadband development, according to studies conducted by the United Nations. New York State is in the bottom third among the states.

"Broadband has now become a necessary piece of infrastructure - now it is sewer, water and broadband," said Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, Feb. 25.

Sayward said broadband access would greatly increase the quality of life for Adirondack residents and would open limitless opportunities for economic development. She added expanded broadband access would also result in tourists staying longer.

"People like Westport because they have the broadband capability," said Forcier, noting how many second-home owners enjoy the freedom it gives them to work from home in a rural setting.

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