How will fiber project affect Yates County?
YATES COUNTY--With Yates County's recent decision to work with the Southern Tier Network (STN) instead of Access Ontario (AO) for their fiber network, they plan to be able to begin construction on it this spring. Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy said once the existing design work is transferred from AO to the STN, the legislature plans to approve the agreement in February and begin construction shortly after.
"The county legislature here adopted some resolutions in December that pretty much state the intent to join the Southern Tier Network and to complete the necessary agreements to make it possible for us to do so," Purdy said. "So right now the attorneys for the STN are drafting the agreement which the county will then examine -- our county attorney will look at it as well -- and when it is ready, then the legislature here will consider a resolution authorizing the chairman to sign the agreements."
The fiber network is intended to allow Internet providers in the network to bring their services to area businesses, who can then link with other businesses on the network. Dark fiber is a type of fiber where several service providers are able to lease fiber strands in one sheath to provide customers with network access. There will be approximately 68 miles of fiber installed in the county, with an estimated completion date of December, 2015. The fiber ring will not only provide much faster service to businesses, but it will let many different service providers use and lease the fiber at once and will not be limited to only one provider. Since the network is organized in a ring, if one part of the fiber goes down, it will not affect service in other parts of the network.
The Southern Tier Network has constructed fiber rings in Schuyler, Steuben and Chemung Counties. The proposed Yates County ring will then connect to the fiber rings in Ontario and Schuyler Counties.
Purdy said once the agreement is signed by both parties, that is when Yates will become an actual member of the STN. She said the STN will construct the fiber ring in Yates for the county, who will pay for the construction and design through a $2.4 million Connect N.Y. broadband grant. Purdy said both parties are expecting to have the agreements in place by the end of February, which will allow for construction to begin shortly thereafter.
"Everybody is anxious to get the construction started," Purdy said. "It can start right away. One of the things adopted by the legislature in December did was authorize us to take all the work Access Ontario had done on behalf of Yates County and flip that work product over to the Southern Tier Network. That has been taking place while we are waiting for the attorneys to finish up."
Purdy said AO has been good to work with, but said "it wasn't possible to work it out," adding the business model Yates wished to pursue did not sync with what AO was able to offer. She said AO has been very willing to help transfer the completed work, as once Yates is connected, they will all be part of one regional broadband network.
"Both sides were not able to come to an agreement on some of the issues that were of concern to Yates County," Purdy said. "That is not a reflection on Access Ontario at all. It simply means that the model that Yates County wanted to use was not compatible with Access Ontario's model."
Purdy said the STN model is one that is more compatible for the county, which has to do with "the approach to assumption of financial risk." She said STN is going to do the construction for the county and the county has the funds to pay for the construction, adding that is not much of a risk.
"What is a financial risk to both STN and to Yates County is how quickly our network becomes profitable once it is up and running," Purdy said. "There is a potential for financial exposure to both parties while we are waiting for it to turn a profit. STN's approach to that financial risk is a little different than Access Ontario's, and it was an approach that works better for Yates County, particularly in light of the fact we had a lot of citizens last year expressing concerns about that particular item."
Legislators Gary Montgomery and Elden Morrison had previously voiced their concerns about the fiber network project. Both legislators voted against the resolution to negotiate with the STN until more questions could be answered. During previous meetings with Access Ontario, Montgomery had expressed his concerns about the Yates County revenue projections exceeding the revenue being generated in Ontario County. Purdy said the differences in the revenue projections have to do with the initial volume of anchor tenants -- such as schools, government buildings, libraries and hospitals. She said it is hard to compare Yates to Ontario County for that because Yates is more rural than Ontario.
"It's not apples to apples," Purdy said. "The question goes back to the financial risk and how quickly the network will turn a profit. The Southern Tier Network would not be willing to bring Yates County in as a partner if they felt that the financial risk and exposure was too high."
Another concern from the legislators was that the final route of the project had not yet been established. Purdy said while the basic outline of the fiber route has been determined, there are modifications and additions the county will not know if they can add until construction actually begins.
"The basic route has been established," Purdy said. "What we really will not be able to determine until we actually start construction is whether there are some additional pieces we can add. The basic route is dependent on estimated costs for what can be done above ground and what has to be done below ground. But once you actually get into construction, it's really no different than building a building. You have an estimate of how much it is gong to cost, but once you get started, if it goes more easily than you thought it would, then you have got some extra money left over. The thing to do with that is not turn that money back over to the state, but use it."
Purdy said the plan is for the fiber to come in from Rushville, go to Penn Yan, go into Geneva, and then also come down from Penn Yan to Dundee before being run to Watkins Glen. Purdy said there will be a route to Branchport as well.
"When they first mapped this out, it was going to be phase one, phase two, and phase three," Purdy said. "It is actually very likely the phases are going to be built simultaneously."
On the possibility of the construction exceeding expectations, Purdy said the county will be able to take steps during the construction process to stay within the $2.4 million grant if things begin to look like they will go over. Purdy added both the design and construction costs will be covered by the grant, saying, "we are not really anticipating cost overruns, because it has been mapped out pretty carefully."
"It's not like we are not going to monitor the construction as it is going along," Purdy said. "If something does cost more than we thought it would, then we adjust something else along the way. It really shouldn't cost more than the total amount. This is where it is different than building a building. When you build a building, you start building a foundation and a structure, and you can't not put a roof on it. With the fiber network, there are adjustments that can be made along the way if the costs are exceeding what they are anticipated to be. It goes both ways. If they come in under the estimates, then we get to add things on. If they come in over the estimates, then we see what we can do to subtract from costs. It's a more fluid situation than building a structure."
Purdy said the fiber is intended to enhance the electronic communications abilities of governmental entities and "anchor institutions," but added it will also "provide the backbone for private sector providers to then take the last mile connection to residents." She said she knows there are private sector providers who are interested to bringing the service to residents, but it is up to the private providers to determine when they want to come in and take it to residential locations. Purdy added, "they are anxious to get moving."
"It's kind of the same theory as bringing electricity and telephones into existence," Purdy said. "It's the next significant piece of infrastructure. [...] Speaking as a resident of Yates County, I get on the Internet at 10 at night and it is slow. I am thinking 'Hm, the entire rest of Penn Yan is on the Internet right now too.' It is what it is, but the ability to increase the volume of traffic and the speed of traffic is going to benefit individuals in ways they can't even think of right now."