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Project seeks to bring broadband Internet to underserved St. Lawrence County communities

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BRASHER FALLS — A man involved with bringing broadband Internet access to the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation is hoping to expand the service’s reach into nearby unserved or underserved communities.

Jeff Beekhoo asked for permission from the Brasher town board last week to survey residents to see if they were interested in the service.

James F. Hidy, representing the North Country Broadband organization, said the survey would first be given to town board members for their review and approval before it would be distributed to residents for their input.

Surveys will then be included as part of a grant application, along with a cost analysis, in an effort to obtain funding that would allow expansion of the service.

“We want to basically give everybody the opportunity to get broadband,” Mr. Beekhoo said.

The survey will ask questions such as who would be interested in Internet service and what price they would pay.

He said he also wants to use a sampling of Brasher residents to test the service to see how it runs before expanding it to other customers.

Mr. Beekhoo, who said tribal officials brought him from Florida about a year and a half ago to set up broadband service, told board members one of the items on his agenda was getting service to all St. Lawrence County townships where it’s not currently available. He plans to use a combination of wireless and fiber optic technology and hopes to start construction in the spring “at least in St. Lawrence County.”

His plan is to use as many water towers as possible to set up the necessary equipment and, if there are “dark spots,” ask residents for permission to put up a tower.

“It’s not a small project. It’s going to be a huge project. I need a lot of support from people like you who see a need for it,” he said.

Broadband Internet access would open more avenues for future economic development and current individual businesses, Mr. Beekhoo said. Farmers who don’t have Internet access, for instance, could use broadband services to help them with their businesses, he said.

In some cases, he said, they may qualify for free grants for phones and Internet as part of the farm bill.

“But they can’t get it without broadband,” Mr. Beekhoo said.

Mr. Hidy said broadband Internet services also would be beneficial to college students who may have to participate in distance learning online.

In addition, having the broadband access would allow doctors and patients to participate in telemedicine, where a patient can be seen via video conferencing by a doctor at another facility.

Mr. Hidy said that while a local cable company offers $14 Internet packages to customers in areas they serve, “the speed is not conducive to kids who are working or anyone who needs speed.”

Mr. Beekhoo said the intention isn’t to compete with other services, but to keep the cost 20 percent below other local services.

Brasher officials gave the go-ahead for Mr. Beekhoo to survey residents.

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