Three Counties in New York Building Southern Tier Network

Steuben, Chemung, and Schuyler counties have joined with fiber-optic cable manufacturer Corning to announce a middle-mile network connecting community anchor institutions, wireless towers, etc. Corning picked up the lion's share of the network, $10 million of the $12.2 million price tag.

Local governments, educational institutions, health care organizations and other commercial/industrial businesses also stand to benefit greatly, said Marcia Weber, Southern Tier Central executive director.

Possible applications include “distance learning” between college campus branches and “telemedicine” between rural clinics and major hospitals, Weber said.

The project has been a top priority for Southern Tier Central in recent years. Weber, who called it “her passion,” was very disappointed when a major federal stimulus grant was narrowly missed last year.

The counties’ share (Steuben, $1.23 million; Chemung, $790,000; Schuyler, $188,000) will fund a non-profit, to be called Southern Tier Network, that has been created to oversee and maintain the network.

The project starts this year and expects to be finished by 2013. In 2014, the project is expected to become self-sustainable -- being funded by the fees it charges for access to the infrastructure.

A fact sheet on the project [pdf] explains the governing structure:

Southern Tier Network is a new not-for-profit, local development corporation (LDC) established to own, build and manage a $12.2 million regional fiber optic backbone that will enable access to the highest speed broadband connectivity available in Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben Counties. Articles of Incorporation for Southern Tier Network have been filed with New York State, and a board of directors is in place, comprised of representatives from the three counties and other community stakeholders.

The fact sheet also explains the idea of Middle Mile and Open Access (referencing Axcess Ontario, a similar project funded by Ontario County):

Southern Tier Network will supply access to the new telecommunications network, not Internet connectivity itself. It will lease network capacity to telecommunication carriers, governments, educational institutions and healthcare organizations, as well as other commercial and industrial businesses. The initiative will focus on partnerships with service providers and encourage the use of the optical fiber backbone to expand competitive services throughout the region, including more rural areas. The optical fiber backbone will be open to any viable entity for use in supporting the creation and delivery of technologies and services. The network is meant to complement the established carrier infrastructure and not to devalue existing investments in the community.

The Southern Tier Network ultimately will connect to other regional open access networks. STN’s business plan mirrors the successful and nationally-recognized model now operational in Ontario County, N.Y. The Ontario County fiber ring is a model for rural communities seeking broadband access, and was implemented and facilitated by ECC Technologies, Inc., STC’s technical advisor in the Southern Tier Network initiative.

A Frequently Asked Questions handout [pdf] notes that the counties failed to secure federal support through the broadband stimulus program and grew tired of hoping that Google would solve their problems for them.

The Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board (STC) has been working for several years to make fiber available in our region. As part of those efforts, STC applied for federal funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), but received disappointing news in September 2010. STC’s bid for funding, which had reached the final stages, was denied because NTIA did not have sufficient resources to fund the project. In addition, an application to Google’s 2010 “Think Big with a Gig” Fiber for Communities grant program has been put on hold by Google. In the wake of these events, the planning board decided to move forward with its plan to create a fiber optic infrastructure. STC continued its efforts to secure the funding and partners necessary to launch the initiative, and has been joined by Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben Counties, ECC Technologies, Inc., and Corning Incorporated to form Southern Tier Network. Today, a board of directors is in place, comprised of representatives from the three counties and other community stakeholders.

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