RAY BROOK - Work is continuing on a new, high-capacity fiber-optic network that will run through the Adirondacks, including the Tri-Lakes.
The Development Authority of the North Country, which is spearheading the project, recently submitted an application to the state Adirondack Park Agency to string fiber-optic lines on existing utility poles that run along the railroad corridor between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
Speaking at last week's agency board meeting, APA Regulatory Programs Director Rick Weber said the agency is involved because there may be some work that takes place in wetlands, which crews would have to cross to access the poles.
"The hanging of an additional fiber-optic cable on existing line is considered a non-jurisdictional activity, but the construction activity may involve wetlands, and that is what's under review at this point," Weber told agency commissioners.
Later in the meeting, DANC Executive Director James Wright outlined his organization's ongoing broadband development projects in the North Country.
DANC serves Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, and in 2003 it built a fiber-optic network connecting that region to the Syracuse area using a combination of state funding and private financing. That 750-mile network has since expanded to 900 miles of cable, most of it strung between power poles in existing utility rights of way.
"We are a wholesale provider, not a retailer," Wright said. "I do not sell you the Internet. I bring you the Internet with my middle-mile transport pipe, if you will. You are then connected by a last-mile provider that will provide you the services and connections you're looking for."
In 2009, DANC received a share of $39 million in federal economic stimulus funds awarded to the communications company ION. The money was targeted for development of high-speed broadband to rural communities in upstate New York, including the western and central portions of the state, the Southern Tier and the North Country.
The three projects DANC has been working on in the North Country involve 350 miles of construction connecting 94 "community anchor" institutions, Wright said.
"By that we're talking about schools, libraries, community facilities, public safety, universities - a vast array of institutions," he said. "The objective is to target and connect as many as we can."
Since DANC is based in the western part of the North Country, Wright said the authority was sensitive to concerns about it encroaching east, where much of the stimulus-funded work has been taking place. That's why, he said, DANC has entered into agreements with existing telecommunications providers - like SLIC, Frontier Communications, Westelcom, Primelink, KVVI and others - to actually build the network.
"We're hanging 96 strands of fiber-optic cable on their poles, or we're contracting with them to build if they don't have the capability," Wright said.
Construction of the first of DANC'S three new North Country fiber-optic networks wrapped up late last year. It connects the Watertown area to Utica, provides increased broadband capacity to Fort Drum and includes two telemedicine networks.
The second network DANC is building - dubbed segment 10 - runs from Governeur east across the Adirondacks to Westport, traversing the Tri-Lakes area. Construction of several underground segments was completed in December. Aerial construction is scheduled to start soon, wrapping up in September.
Part of the route will include a loop in the Tupper Lake area that connects major sites in the community like the Wild Center nature museum, Tupper Lake schools, the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library and the Adirondack Public Observatory.
"This is kind of a unique circumstance because we're partnering with the Wild Center and the village of Tupper Lake," Wright said. "Tupper Lake has municipal power, and we negotiated a contract with them for access to their poles. The Wild Center will serve as a central office for us."
Another section of the network includes connections to Trudeau Institute that will allow the Saranac Lake biomedical research center to transfer large amounts of data quickly, "which is critical to their sustainability," Wright explained.
"That will be one of the critical institutions that will be part of our build," he said. "It's a good example of what's occurring because it's talking about redundancy and capacity. They have an Internet connection, but it's a dead-end route, and if it goes down, there's no other way out. So by us connecting with them, we dramatically increase the speed and capacity, and give them the critical redundancy for their initiatives."
The third stimulus-funded segment DANC is building runs across the top of the North Country, linking Potsdam, Malone and Plattsburgh. Engineering for that route is complete, and the project will be put out for bids at the end of May. Construction is scheduled to start in July, Wright said.
APA officials thanked Wright and DANC for their work to expand broadband in the Park.
"I think back to in 2007 and 2008 when the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance identified broadband infrastructure needs as vital to the economy of the Park," said agency Executive Director Terry Martino. "To see this as a reality now is really remarkable."
"All it took was a pile of federal money," Wright responded.
More information on DANC's broadband projects is available at www.danc.org.