TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Ahead of the Tompkins County Legislature’s normal meeting, a special meeting was held Tuesday to approve an additional spending allocation for broadband expansion in Newfield.

The vote was unanimous among present legislature members, approving taking $70,000 from the general fund and directing it towards expanding broadband to about 180 unserved homes in Newfield. The effort came from a previously started broadband expansion study that was analyzing unserved households in Tompkins County, a collaboration between the county (led by Principal Planner and Tourism Program Director Nick Helmholdt), Southern Tier Network and Fujitsu.

“We came to a point in that study where we decided that we wanted to pause and reach out to the Internet Service Providers who are currently operating in the area to see whether or not there may be interest in expanding to these unserved pockets of the county,” Helmholdt said. “Because, as we found in the study, these pockets were very scattered and actually had fewer homes in them than we expected initially.”

Out of those conversations, Helmholdt said, came an opportunity, though it was time-sensitive. Chuck Bartosh, of Point Broadband, who said that there was an area in Newfield with pre-stationed Point crews who would be available to work on expanding broadband there.

The final funding was provided by a mix of Point Broadband, a small federal grant, and county money, the latter of which covered about 25 percent of the cost. The Town of Newfield also committed $5,000 to the project, Helmholdt said, which reduced the amount of Tompkins County spending from $75,000.

“This is an opportunity to provide broadband, fiber-to-the-home internet for approximately 180 homes in the Town of Newfield,” Helmholdt said.

While the resolution passed unanimously, legislature member Dan Klein did pause the proceedings to reiterate that while the current project and resolution are good, the full-county approach should still be the primary tool to bring broadband to all county residents. Separate town by town strategies have been tried and largely not worked, he said.

“They’ve come to some success, but not a lot of success […] A lot of us came to the conclusion that this patchwork approach was not going to work, and we needed a full county approach to solve this problem,” Klein said. “That was one of the principles that was behind the county broadband study that is going on right now. I just want to make sure this vote does not say that we are abandoning this principle.”

Fellow member Deborah Dawson said she had heard Spectrum was preparing its own proposal that would have competed with the Point Broadband plan, but that the company had fallen silent as the bidding process advanced. Helmholdt confirmed that.

“It means a lot to us, this is one of the larger unserved areas. It will make a big difference to about 180 households, so we really appreciate it,” said Michael Allinger, Newfield’s Town Supervisor.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com