LOWVILLE — Frontier and Hughes Network Systems will be filling the void left in Lewis County and others by Mohawk Network’s pullout from the New NY Broadband Program earlier this year.
In a new deal orchestrated by the state Broadband Program Office, a division of the Empire State Development Corp., Frontier Communications has been awarded $6 million to provide high-speed internet service to 1,916 of the 3,623 locations that were originally to be serviced by Mohawk, 1,600 of which are in Lewis County.
According to a spokesperson for Empire, the broadband office also negotiated for Frontier to provide service to 300 additional locations without requiring further investment by the state.
Whether or not any or all of those locations are expected to be among those that were in the Mohawk grant but not covered by the Frontier grant was not clear.
The spokesperson would only confirm that Frontier had not yet designated the 300 locations.
Frontier was awarded 95 percent of the grant funding that had been given to Mohawk Networks but will provide fiber optic service to just over half, 53 percent, of the locations.
The reason for the disparity, according to the spokesperson, is that fiber optic requires substantial infrastructure to be built, whereas the fixed wireless service Mohawk had intended to provide only required the construction or use of towers.
In the original incarnation of the program, the cost per location based upon the total project cost, including both the state grant and private contribution, and the number of locations served, would have been $2,181 if Mohawk had been successful.
In a memo sent to Lewis County officials explaining their decision to pull out of the program, Mohawk Networks had cited the challenges of acquiring tower sites, the increasing cost of steel and the challenging topography of the county as reasons why costs for the project had “nearly doubled” and became untenable.
Based on the same figures, the total cost and number of locations to be served, the cost per location for the Frontier build-out will be $5,010.
Fiber-optic broadband is now considered the “gold standard” by tech experts because of its speed and reliability. The spokesperson indicated that accordingly, the new Frontier customers to this program will be provided speeds from 100 megabits per second up to one gigabit per second.
The Mohawk service was slated to come in at 25 megabits per second, the basic speed needed to qualify as high-speed broadband according to the FCC.
Empire’s spokesperson said Mohawk has claimed it provided service to 450 locations, mainly in Lewis County, in the work completed before it left the project, however, that has not been verified by the Broadband Program Office.
Frontier’s fiber-optic broadband service under the New NY Broadband Program will be offered at a rate of $60 per month guaranteed for five years, the spokesperson said via email.
Ultimately, if the 450 sites Mohawk Networks already installed are verified and including the 300 additional locations, Frontier will be covering between 61 and 70 percent of Mohawk’s Phase 2 grant, depending on where the additional 300 locations are chosen.
HughesNet will be offering satellite broadband at 25 megabits per second to between 957 and 1,257 locations depending on the outcome of Frontier’s selection of the undetermined 300.
Under the program, subscribers to HughesNet will also be paying $60 per month with a free dish and no hard data caps.
The Empire spokesperson said current HughesNet satellite broadband service has improved on its older service models, offering more benefits to customers in response to concerns about the effectiveness of satellite service at providing reliable high-speed broadband considering the extreme weather in Lewis County, especially snow and ice.
The program will award Hughes Networks up to $268,853, as determined by the number of subscribers to its service. The company has committed to investing $160,145.
In 2017, Mohawk Networks was awarded $6.4 million dollars in Phase 2 of the New NY Broadband Program, to provide high-speed broadband service to 3,623 locations, including 3,000 in Lewis County, 240 in Jefferson County, 180 in St. Lawrence County and 220 in Oneida County with a $1.6 million private match bringing the total amount available for the project to $7.9 million.
The Phase 3 award for Mohawk was to be $5.1 million to supply broadband to 1,286 locations mostly in Franklin and Clinton counties.
Under these new agreements, Slic Network Solutions is expected to provide fiber-optic broadband to 906 of the locations with a $4.4 million grant award.
Like Frontier, Slic has indicated that hundreds of additional locations in Franklin County beyond the Mohawk locations will receive fiber-optic service without additional cost to the state. The number of additional locations was not specified by the Empire spokesperson.
Empire’s Broadband office will monitor the progress of all three companies as they work to complete their obligations under the grants by 2020.