Ontario County Open Access Middle Mile Network In the News

Stop the Cap! has the authored the most recent of several articles examining a unique middle mile broadband approach in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Their title summarizes the motivation: Ontario County, NY: We Need Fiber So Badly, We Just Did It Ourselves. That story includes a video clip of a recent CNBC Power Lunch 2 minute piece about the Axcess Ontario initiative (complete with the factual error that "no provider offers 100Mbps;" in fact, several community broadband networks offer 100Mbps and Chattanooga has moved beyond with a 150Mbps offering).

Ontario County has a population of some 100,000. To stay relevant in the modern era, they determined the County had to do something to improve broadband availability, so they created a nonprofit called Axcess Ontario, an initiative sufficiently impressive for the County's CIO to receive an award - State Public Sector CIO of the Year.

In creating Axcess Ontario (originally named Finger Lakes Regional Telecommunications Development Corp), the County wanted to be locally self-reliant and did not seek funding from the federal government:

Unlike numerous similar attempts in other parts of the country, Ontario County funded its network without dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Those who created Axcess Ontario were insistent the project shouldn't rely on the availability of outside funding, according to Edward Hemminger, CIO of Ontario County.

The network's startup costs were $7.5 million, which the municipality generated through the Ontario County Office of Economic Development/Industrial Development Agency. The organization is a quasi-government agency created by the state to generate economic activity. Businesses pay the agency for various services, the revenue from which pays for initiatives like Axcess Ontario.

In order to mollify the private sector, the county created Axcess Ontario as a nonprofit with the majority of board seats held by private companies. The network is open access, encouraging private providers to extend it to the last mile and allowing community anchor institutions like hospitals to choose what service provider they want to use.

By May 2010, the network claimed credit for bringing five companies into the area. This story describes one service provider on the network, OneStream.

Historically, these middle mile initiatives have not been successful at solving the last mile problem because even those Axcess Ontario will guarantee affordable backhaul (an ongoing, operating expense), the initial capital costs of building a last-mile network are too extreme for the private sector.

They have applied be a Google Gibabit community, hoping their middle mile investment will catch the Goog's eye.

“Our community had the vision, knowledge and the foresight to invest in a fiber infrastructure that is critical to American innovation and economic growth,” Hemminger said. “The fiber ring ensures our community will never be left behind in the global economy, and this week we can see with the Google Experiment that Ontario County may, in fact, have an opportunity to lead the way.”