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Cortland Standard, "Go, Dryden broadband, go"

Cortland Standard Editorial: Go, Dryden broadband, go

Cortland Standard editorial, published Friday, October 13th, 2023

Living “off the grid” is great — if you’re so inclined. No ringing of a telephone to disturb your peace, no social media to distract you. Maybe that will be our retirement plan; quiet country living certainly sounds like a welcome break from the noise and tumult of a busy world.

“Off the grid” is also profoundly limiting. There’s no way to access the worldwide network across which information and money flows. Young people, hungry to learn and connect, may starve in comparison to their wired peers. Adults lose out on economic opportunities. Seniors may be more isolated. Farmers find it difficult to manage their herds. Across the board, the prosperity of rural areas is limited by lack of access to high-speed internet — and eventually, these rural areas will no longer be able to keep nor attract residents. After decades of increasing speeds in more populated locales, it has fallen to local governments to extend networks to the far reaches of our country. The town of Dryden has paved the way, and town officials’ foresight and vision will extend opportunities to even more areas.

Dryden Fiber, the first municipal broadband project in the state, can now borrow money to expand service outside the town, with the Oct. 6 passage of a state bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Anna Kelles (D-Freeville), that allows municipalities to issue and sell bonds for work outside their borders to provide funding for the acquisition, construction, or replacement of broadband and related telecommunications infrastructure. Dryden Fiber was conceived in 2018 after the town tried to persuade Spectrum to expand service into parts of town that lack high-speed internet. Rather than give grant money to Spectrum to expand, as other Tompkins County towns had, the town board decided to build its own network.

For almost two decades, we’ve watched municipalities partner with internet service providers — from giants like Spectrum to smaller operators using unproven technology — with little to show for it. It costs big bucks to run the necessary infrastructure down rural roads. Beau Harbin, the chair of Cortland County’s Agricultural, Planning & Environmental Committee, estimates it would cost anywhere from $8 million to $20 million to wire the county’s underserved areas high speed fiber optic cable. The Federal Communications Commission, meanwhile, issues maps that seem to show the county is nearly fully connected. The committee worked with the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board to determine what areas really had adequate access, and found about 1,500 addresses across the county and hundreds of miles of road without existing broadband infrastructure. 

The $15 million Dryden Broadband project began providing service in November 2022, and is expected to pay for itself in about nine years. About $2 million of the project has been paid for through grant funding. As more residents sign up, costs per household will decrease. And for those who cannot afford the full costs, the Federal Communications Commission Affordable Connectivity Program can offer up to a $30 monthly discount for eligible households. 

Dryden town officials’ forward thinking is an example for other municipalities to create broadband to not only expand service to areas that do not have service, but to eventually lower the cost of service to customers. We’re surprised we haven’t seen more movement in this direction from other area municipalities, but we suppose Dryden Broadband is still very much in its infancy. Now that municipalities are able to borrow to extend services beyond their borders, perhaps other towns will be able to crunch the numbers and find that creating even more ambitious networks will generate economies of scale to make projects more cost effective. 

After years of watching our rural areas fall behind in their access to the world at large, we’re pleased to see some forward progress. We wish Dryden Broadband further success, and for others to pay close attention.