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Slic broadband project stimulating ‘new economy’

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Slic Network Solutions is nearing the end of its major broadband construction provided financially through the federal stimulus, but the legacy of the project will continue for years to come.

“It’s going to have an economic impact we can’t even imagine,” said Mark J. Dzwonczyk, CEO of Nicholville Telephone Co., the parent company of Slic. “We have people telecommuting already. People are going to be moving their home offices to the Adirondacks because they can now.”

Slic was awarded two grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the stimulus act. The first round of funding for $5.3 million enabled the company to lay 139 miles of fiber-optic cable past 750 homes. The second grant, for $27 million, is allowing the company to install 660 miles of fiber past 5,500 homes in Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.

“We’re 80 percent complete on both projects from a construction standpoint,” said Slic President Philip J. Wagschal.

Video service allowing television programming, including local sports, could start to roll out by May 1.

Apart from the expansion financed by the federal government, Slic plans to invest its own money in projects in a half-dozen communities to extend its reach, including Long Lake in Hamilton County, and around Ogdensburg and Potsdam.

“There’s a lot of little bits and pieces we’re going to do on our own dime that are just beyond our existing network,” Mr. Wagschal said.

The company also expects to benefit from a state program, Connecting New York, that has been pushed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

That could help with service around Black Lake, in North Bangor, Belmont, Lyon Mountain, Chazy Lake and Schroon Lake.

Empire State Development has pledged more than $2 million in assistance.

Response among customers who have not had service before has been gratifying. At one session in Star Lake, the company signed up 181 customers in an afternoon.

The broadband expansion started by the federal funding represents a cultural shift for the north country because people who used to wait for a dialup website to load will have the Internet nearly instantly at their fingertips.

“It changes the way we work. It changes the economic fabric of the community,” Mr. Dzwonczyk said. “It’s about changing the infrastructure of the economy. We’re providing broadband speeds basically unrivaled in the state.”

The projects also have had a profound impact on Nicholville Telephone Co. and Slic, which already has doubled its permanent number of employees from 24 to 48.

“I think we’ve only started the march,” Mr. Dzwonczyk said. “It’s going to be absolutely fascinating. We certainly expect to do big things.”

The company also has become a role model for how to achieve broadband coverage in rural America.

“We’ve already been approached by folks in Massachusetts to tap our expertise,” Mr. Dzwonczyk said. “Slic is a recognized leader, if not the leader in the state. It’s a tremendous overall success story.”

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