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Slic wins $5.3 million grant to expand Internet service in Franklin, St. Lawrence counties

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NICHOLVILLE — Slic Network Solutions has received a $5.3 million Connect NY grant to enable it to bring broadband service to underserved areas near Black Lake in St. Lawrence County and southern Bellmont in Franklin County, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday.

The funding is in addition to a $6.1 million grant Slic received in March of last year to connect northern Bellmont and other areas — a project that is still in the final approval stages, according to Slic sales engineer Jeffrey Yette. Of that grant amount, just over $1 million was slated for the Bellmont North Next Generation Broadband project.

This time, Mr. Yette said, $1.1 million will be allocated to Bellmont South Next Generation. Money will also be used for the Blake Lake Next Generation project in the towns of Oswegatchie and DePeyster, as well as projects in Newcomb and Minerva in Essex County. In all, Slic will build about 184 miles of fiber, passing 2,429 homes, Mr. Yette said. The project is expected to be completed in 2016 or 2017.

“We’re continuing to expand our fiber footprint into underserved areas. That’s kind of what our focus has been of late,” he said.

In the town of Oswegatchie, which includes part of Black Lake, Town Supervisor Alfred J. Nichols said expanding high-speed Internet could help expand business opportunities and make the area more attractive to potential home buyers. He said there are large sections of the sprawling town that have little or no access to Broadband.

“Right now, going south along Route 812 along the Oswegatchie River, I don’t know of anyone who has it,” Mr. Nichols said. “Yes, it’s good news. Everyone else has it, why not us?”

Mr. Nichols said broadband service in the township could also go hand in hand with tentative plans to spend $14 million on a new water district that, if built, would also hug Route 812 as far as the town of Morristown.

“We’ve been waiting for this to happen. It could help us try to get some new businesses in,” he said.

In Bellmont, the grant will pay for Slic to lay out 34.4 miles of fiber, passing 555 homes, businesses and churches, Mr. Yette said.

The north country has the highest percentage of unserved citizens in the state, officials said.

“High-speed internet represents reliable communication and access to information, but the reality is that many New Yorkers still remain without access to this important resource,” Gov. Cuomo said in a press release issued Wednesday. “By expanding broadband services in the north country, we can create a better living situation for underserved seniors throughout the region and ensure that residents are better connected with their communities.”

“I feel finally my prayers have been answered,” said Bellmont Town Supervisor Bruce Russell, noting the town has been trying for five years to get both north and south hooked up, first attempting to get a grant for the whole town, but ending up splitting it up into two. “I’ve been told for almost six weeks that it’s coming, it’s coming. I was just biting my lip waiting for Cuomo to officially announce it.”

Mr. Russell said he is especially happy that seasonal residents will be getting connected. He has said in the past that this will encourage visitors to come earlier and stay later, boosting the local economy.

The north country appeals to tourists from around the world; however, the release states, the region’s vastness, mountainous terrain and low housing density pose considerable barriers to broadband deployment.

“The Connect NY grants are providing businesses, schools and communities with critical access to high-speed broadband, which helps to attract economic development investments and improve the quality of public education across New York state,” said Kenneth Adams, president and CEO of Empire State Development.

Mr. Yette wants future customers to be aware that the planning and approval process is slow, especially since the Connect NY grants are new and bugs still need to be worked out.

He said Slic probably won’t be able to start installing the cable in north Bellmont until next spring or summer, and the southern region may not be connected until 18 or more months from now. He said it takes at least six months of planning before Slic can approach National Grid and Verizon with a list of poles needed to connect the fiber and submit applications.

Then, those companies have to check the poles to make sure they meet the clearance requirements and adjust them as necessary. After that, Slic will submit final paperwork to the state for approval so Slic can begin to receive reimbursements. Once Slic gets the go-ahead, the lines will be up in a couple of months.

Mr. Yette said the Bellmont North project is still awaiting final state approval. He added that the project might actually go faster for the southern end once the process is streamlined. “Once the newness is over, perhaps the wheels will spin a little faster,” Mr. Yette said.

As part of the overall North Country Broadband Plan, Older Adults Technology Services will launch a broadband adoption program in the region to recruit customers. The nonprofit organization trains older adults in using technology to improve their quality of life, according to the release. But Mr. Yette stressed that anyone along the fiber line may sign up for service, not just seniors.

The Older Adults program is an important step to get more people online, Mr. Yette said, noting there is an issue between availability and getting customers to subscribe to the service.

So far, the company has seen about a 60 percent adoption rate in the communities it serves. The other 40 percent either isn’t interested in the Internet, can’t afford it, or doesn’t know how to use it. Providing training will help increase that number, Mr. Yette said.

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