POTSDAM — Local, state and federal officials gathered Wednesday at Clarkson University to help officially kick off a Potsdam telecommunications provider's $33 million broadband Internet expansion project in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties.
The Slic Network Solutions project, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or the federal stimulus program, will connect communities where access to high-speed Internet is limited or nonexistent.
Philip J. Wagschal, Slic president and general manager, said the company will build 660 miles of fiber-optic cable that could provide service to 5,856 homes in St. Lawrence County. Service, to also include phone and video, will be available in the towns of Louisville, Norfolk, Stockholm, Hopkinton, Parishville, Waddington, Madrid, Potsdam, Lisbon, Canton, Pierrepont, Clare, Oswegatchie, Fine, Clifton and Piercefield.
In Franklin County, 136 miles of fiber-optic cable will be constructed, potentially providing service to 726 homes in the towns of Dickinson, Moira, Brandon, Bangor, Malone and Waverly.
Connections will be made by building out the Development Authority of the North Country's existing fiber-optics network.
"These are areas where the digital divide is real," Mr. Wagschal said. "Dickinson Center, for example, has no cable or DSL (digital subscriber line). They basically only have phone service. This is a huge win for these communities."
Without funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development's Rural Utilities Service, he said many of these low-population communities likely could never hope for more than dial-up Internet connections. Providers are more likely to invest in densely populated areas where there is greater return on investment.
The expansion is expected to create 76 jobs in St. Lawrence County and 13 jobs in Franklin County.
"Some of the jobs will stay to oversee the maintenance of facilities and provide additional services," he said. "This will also put us in a position to expand our network."
Mr. Wagschal said the engineering and design portion of the project is well under way. Physical work is expected to begin in Franklin County by early February, and St. Lawrence County work will begin in March. The project should be complete in 2013, he said.
St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency Deputy CEO Patrick J. Kelly said in addition to those jobs, expanding access will provide a great boost for economic development.
"This will strengthen our ability to present our region in the most promising way," Mr. Kelly said. "Broadband is obviously essential to the economic development process, whether we're trying to attract firms or allowing our businesses to talk to the outside world."
Rural Utilities Service Deputy Administrator Jessica A. Zufolo Jill Harvey, USDA Rural Development state director, and Susan R. Merrell, regional director for U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., were on hand to congratulate Slic on its successful funding applications.
"I hope you continue to teach people about what you're doing to attract investment and jobs," Ms. Zufolo said. "This success story is really tremendous."
Slic provides primarily commercial service in Massena, Canton, Potsdam, Newton Falls and parts of Brasher Falls.