FLORIDA — Charter Communications is actively involved in designing a project to install broadband, cable TV and phone service to underserved populations in Savoy and Florida, according to a Charter Communications spokesperson.
Florida and Savoy are already served by WiValley through a wireless system in which Wi-Fi signals are broadcast from towers to receptors in homes, but because of the plethora of trees in the area and differences in elevation, many customers receive weak or unreliable signals.
Starlink, a satellite-based internet provider operated by Elon Musk's SpaceX, is also spotty and slow for many residents of the two towns.
According to Heidi Vandenbrouk, spokesperson for Charter Communications, the project is funded through a technology grant from the Federal Communications Commission called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
According to information posted by the FCC, the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund was established to bring high-speed, fixed-broadband service to rural homes and small businesses that lack it.
Vandenbrouk noted, via email, that “newly served locations will have access to Spectrum Internet — with gigabyte-per-second high-speed broadband access starting with speeds of 300 megabytes per second, Spectrum Mobile, Spectrum TV and Spectrum Voice, including no data caps, modem fees or annual contracts.”
The timeframe for the project has not yet been determined, and it depends on how the next phase of the project moves forward.
“We are currently in network design for these areas and then will begin the permitting and utility pole attachment process, which can have a significant effect on the timeline of a project before construction begins,” Vandenbrouk said. “We will definitely be communicating with town leaders and potential customers as we progress.”
She explained that early in the process, Spectrum has to inventory the utility poles in the area to know which ones will need to carry the lines and which ones don't — a time-consuming process. Then the company has to notify the owners of the poles to request space for the Spectrum cable, phone and broadband lines.
Once they figure out which utility poles will be needed, Vandenbrouk said, "we rent the poles from utilities — this could be telephone, commercial power, or both. Payments vary between annual, semi-annual or monthly.
Lark Thwing, chairman of a four-town Broadband Committee, which includes Florida, Savoy, Monroe and Hawley, said that a project like this would take at least two years to complete.
He confirmed that some users of WiValley have either cancelled their service or switched to Starlink due to spotty connections. Some don’t use Starlink either due to geographic obstructions or other signal interference.
In an unrelated matter, Thwing noted that WiValley is in the process of getting permission from the state to install a Wi-Fi broadcast tower on Border Mountain, at an altitude of 2,400 feet between Florida and Savoy, which should provide reception to roughly 200 more homes.
He said that the permitting process is in the final stages, and that a conclusion of that is expected in 30 to 60 days, at which point the project will move on to the next stage.
Joan Lewis, town administrator in Florida, said many in town are looking forward to the completion of Charter’s efforts.
“The technology is more advanced than what we have now,” she said. “It’s also cheaper for a better product. So the town is very excited, although they did say it would take a while.”