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Congress to look at funding for Massena cable service

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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MASSENA — The town may have another option for cable, Internet and phone services coming its way.


For the past year, Councilman John M. Wicke has been working with U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., about getting federal funding to help set up a municipal cable company. The proposal is part of a bill now on its way to the Senate floor for debate.


"It's step one of 100, but it's pretty exciting news," Mr. Wicke said. "We were one of very, very few projects that was awarded. The senator was ecstatic, as I am, that this happened."


Mr. Wicke has asked for $750,000 from Congress to set up the new company, which he says will provide jobs and entice new employers into the area. He envisions coverage to extend to any business or resident within the Massena Electric Department operating area.


"This would be another carrot to offer to possible employers," he said.


That carrot, Mr. Wicke says, would lower costs and improve services and quality of life for residents in the face of rates that have increased rapidly over the past decade. The company could broadcast live town hall meetings and local sporting events.


"The Massena Municipal Cable Project will not only provide Internet, phone and cable access to Massena's residents, but it will also make it more affordable and reliable," Sen. Schumer said in a press release. "The Municipal Cable Project is a real win-win for Massena."


Currently, Massena residents have to choose between Verizon and Time Warner for their telecommunications services. The town is hoping this proposal will offer residents a third option.


"We're not afraid of competition. We think that competition serves the community well," said Jeffrey A. Unaitis, spokesman for the Central New York Division of Time Warner. "We've been responsive (to customers) in the past 10 years in launching our services."


The Town Council will meet with consulting companies to determine the structure of the company while it waits for a decision from Washington. It is looking at towns across the country as models, as well as the MED, which is owned and operated by the town.


"Nothing is certain yet, but it gives us a chance," town Supervisor W. Gary Edwards said. "The community can be really grateful to Senator Schumer for putting his weight behind this."


The bill will go to the Senate sometime in the next fiscal year, which begins in October. Because of previously submitted bills, it is unclear when it will be debated.


If passed in the Senate, it will go into a conference session with the House of Representatives and then go on to the president for a signature. Mr. Wicke says the process could take months or more, but he hopes the bill will pass.


"I like to fight for the little guy," Mr. Wicke said. "That might sound corny, but this could impact every resident."

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