Schoharie County, NY Eyes New Fiber Network On Back Of $30 Million Grant

Schoharie County NY seal

Schoharie County, New York officials have applied for a $30 million New York State ConnectALL grant with the hopes of eventually building a $33 million, county-wide fiber network.

The shape and scope of the network has yet to be determined, but the county hopes to build a network that brings affordable access to the rural, agriculture-heavy county.

“Schoharie County applied for the grant under the NYS MIP program on April 19th, in an attempt to bring high speed broadband access to every premise in the county,” Deputy County Administrator Jim Halios told ILSR.

Notoriously over-optimistic FCC data currently states that Schoharie County enjoys 92 percent broadband coverage county-wide. In reality, broadband access in the county is largely dominated by a monopoly enjoyed by Charter Spectrum, which was nearly kicked out of the state entirely in 2019 for misleading regulators and failing to evenly deploy access.

NY ConnectALL logo

Back in January, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a $228 million infusion of federal funding for a new Municipal Infrastructure Program (MIP). That program, part of the state’s broader ConnectALL broadband initiative, specifically supports municipal broadband projects, which have shown to be a viable and increasingly popular way to bring affordable, uniform, high-quality broadband access to unserved and under-served communities.

Viewing the program as a threat to its regional monopoly, ILSR reported last month how Charter lobbyists unsuccessfully attempted to bury language in the state budget proposal restricting financing to “unserved and underserved locations only,” hoping to ensure that community-owned networks would struggle to reach financial independence.

But now, with the failed budget amendment that sought to undermine the MIP in the rearview, local officials in Schoharie County (and elsewhere in the state) can move forward without imposed restrictions from monopoly providers.

Speaking about the specifics of the Schoharie County plan, Halios said:

“The intention is for this to be done as a public-private partnership and upon a successful grant award the County will follow the required NYS CAO MIP program guidelines.”

Schoharie County Administrator Korsah Akumfi recently told New York Public Radio the full cost of the network will cost around $33 million, and that officials are already working closely with Middleburgh Telephone Company (MidTel) on mapping and logistics.

Schoharie County NY map

Unlike many states – which seem intent on giving the lion’s share of an historic wave of broadband funding to regional monopolies – NY’s ConnectALL program ensures that community-owned or controlled broadband networks are playing a significant role in the expansion of affordable access.

“Broadband infrastructure in the Municipal Infrastructure Program will be owned by a public entity or publicly controlled, and Internet Service Providers will use the new broadband infrastructure to provide New Yorkers with affordable, high quality service options,” the press announcement said.

MIP program guidelines require that applicants try to keep programs under $30 million, demonstrate deployment readiness, don’t apply for projects that have already received federal funding, and ensure delivery of an affordable tier of access capable of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps).

Schoharie County NY aerial photo

With a population of nearly 30,000, Schoharie is NY state's fifth-least populous county. Many of the county’s most rural agricultural regions either have no access to broadband at all, or are forced to rely on expensive, sluggish, and often usage-capped satellite broadband access.

Halios told ILSR that a full proposal will be made public after they learn whether they’ve been awarded a grant. A full request for proposal (RFP) seeking deployment partners should be released shortly thereafter.

“Based on the State’s timeline, award announcements will be in June of 2024,” Halios told ILSR. “At present the state will not disclose the number of applicants as well as who applied. As far as issuing an RFP we will address that issue if and when we are awarded the grant.”

Inline aerial image of Schoharie County courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International