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Onondaga County looking to use federal stimulus funds to improve broadband internet access

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Timothy Vollmer
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Flickr

The coronavirus pandemic has only intensified efforts to make internet service available to every corner of Onondaga County. Getting online is a real chore in parts of the county. Internet providers haven’t stretched fiber lines deep into the more rural areas, leaving spotty coverage at a time when many students and employees are forced to work from home. 

That’s why County Executive Ryan McMahon is proposing to use $15 million out of the county’s $89 million in federal stimulus funding to extend broadband to those hard to reach areas.

“Think about the towns of Tully, Fabius, Otisco, Spafford, Elbridge, Skaneateles, parts of Camillus. You don’t even have access there. Affordability is its own issue,” said McMahon. “But when you don’t have access you don’t even get to the affordability piece.”

McMahon’s idea is to lay down 150 miles of fiber to these rural areas. The first step in the process is a survey of homes to find out where the most serious issues exist. Anyone in Onondaga, Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, and Oswego counties can take the survey until July 31.

McMahon said he would also like to coordinate with the city of Syracuse, which has its own digital issues.

"Get our teams together to figure out how to deal with this issue as a whole in the county,” McMahon said. The city is in the county, and certainly the city will come out with its own plan soon, but I think there’s a lot of synergies there to partnership."

According to the Central New York Digital inclusion Coalition, a quarter of households in Syracuse don’t have broadband Internet of any kind. Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh welcomes the collaboration. He said along with traditional broadband, and laying down fiber, the city is looking into connectivity by way of continued evolution of technology around wi-fi and small cell technology.

"There’s not going to be a one-size fits all approach,” Walsh said. “It’s going to be a patchwork but through that patchwork of investments, we think we can get this county fully connected."