WATERTOWN — The Development Authority of the North Country is partnering with Jefferson County to map out current broadband internet infrastructure, and highlight where more work is needed across the county.
DANC is contracting with ECC Technologies, a telecommunications engineering company in Penfield, Monroe County, to map out which addresses in the county have access to broadband internet. Teams will physically trace and map infrastructure along the roadside, and an online survey will be made available for county residents to report how they access the internet, how they use it and how fast their connection speeds are.
“All the information will be mapped, which will give us a very clear, data-driven picture of where the unserved and underserved areas of the county actually are,” said Laurie A. Marr, DANC’s spokesperson.
That data will then be made available for county leadership to use as they plan infrastructure projects and targeted expansions with the goal of expanding internet access across the region.
During their Nov. 10 board meeting, Jefferson County legislators voted unanimously to begin the study. The county will pay $33,500 — half of the $67,000 project — which will run until August 2021.
As more north country residents have been working or learning from home as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chairman Scott A. Gray said internet access has become integral to many people’s daily lives.
“Undoubtedly, internet is a necessity at this point, in terms of education, the economy and in terms of people continuing to work remotely,” he said.
Mr. Gray said the Jefferson County mapping project is part of a regional push for more information on what work needs to be done to expand reliable, high-speed internet access. Over the summer, he said regional leaders came to the realization that internet access was a major concern for many people, as more workers set up home offices and students began learning from home.
Mrs. Marr said there are many people in the region who have access to internet at their homes, but believe they don’t, or who do have services available, but aren’t able to afford the monthly fees.
“There are a lot of anecdotes out there, but this gives you cold, hard data,” she said. “Data that you can then use to apply for grants and apply for funding to address the problem.”
Lewis County has already begun its study, launching a survey for county residents to take on its website. St. Lawrence County continues to debate launching its own project.
While the 2020 Census did collect data on what regions of the country have internet access, Mr. Gray said this project will get down to the address level, identifying access gaps on the most granular level.
DANC oversees much of the infrastructure development in the region, including the regional broadband networks. DANC maintains what’s known as the “middle-mile” carrier network, which connects internet service providers like Spectrum to individual customers.
“Because the Development Authority really takes control of broadband around here, they were the perfect agency to undertake such a study,” Mr. Gray said.