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Stillwater community longs for broadband internet

Jill Konopka
Updated: April 10, 2020 11:39 AM
Created: April 09, 2020 05:47 PM

STILLWATER -  Brandon Dingeman lives on Sawmill Hill Road in the town of Stillwater. He reached out to NewsChannel 13 during the coronavirus crisis to express frustration in working full-time from home and trying to access online educational resources without access to broadband internet. It’s something he and his neighbors have been trying to get for years.

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"It's been really, really challenging over the last two to three weeks since we've been stuck in the house."  Coronavirus has forced many families to work out of their houses.  Several families on Sawmill Hill Road in Stillwater hope they get that opportunity sooner rather than later.

"It's a really bad situation," Dingeman explains in trying to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

He and his wife bought their home back in 2014.  He says they did their research and set up installation services with then Time Warner Cable services and were told the company does not service the house nor does it service anything on their road, except for one neighbor.

"We've reached out many times," Dingeman added.  "I've gotten a range of quotes $16,000 -$18,000 to get internet run for our house and our neighbors have received similar quotes.  So, we've worked with our town supervisor and our state representatives and while interested in helping, the ball never moved forward." 

Trying to work full-time from home, along with his wife and manage the educational needs of their two children has been frustrating, Dingeman explains.  He and his wife own an Internet-based small business called "The Empire Crate." They ship monthly boxes of NY made food to subscribers.

 "We've got everyone working from home which is now, not uncommon, only now we've got kids who are essentially being left behind. People max out their cellular data tethering through their phone, the kids can't connect to their learning situation," Dingeman told NewsChannel 13.

The father of two shared a number of documents with NewsChannel 13 including a 2017 denied attempt to build the necessary infrastructure through Spectrum Business, as well as ongoing emailed inquiries from him and his neighbors to state officials and Stillwater Town Supervisor Ed Kinowski.

Kinowski says the town has 90 percent connectivity.  and Kinowski is doing all he can, knowing the range on the town's guest hot spot is limited. 

"Spectrum has been indicating it's not just about stringing wire. It's all the infrastructure behind it.  And that becomes more difficult.

"They've been told it could average anywhere from $8,000-$20,000 to connect and these outlandish prices are probably due to infrastructure needed to make the connection possible," Kinowski explained by phone.

New York State's Broadband program launched in recent years with the goal of providing all unserved and underserved communities in New York access to high speed Internet.

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner told NewsChannel 13 she has spoken to Spectrum a number of times and it is not part of their work plan.

"We put $500,000,000 into a broadband solution that was supposed to provide broadband for all.  But the reality is, it didn't.  It only set a very low minimum in terms of what the service needed to provide.  It is not set up for people working from home, kids studying from home, like that was never to the specification we were shooting for." 

Woerner says phase 3 on this project is still ongoing, but she doesn't believe that work will meet the current need of the pandemic.

"We need to start regulating broadband like a utility. So unlike telephone and power and gas, broadband is not a utility and until you regulate it like a utility, we're never going to be able to enforce an expansion across the state with rural electrification the government forced."

A spokeswoman for Spectrum's parent company Charter Communications told NewsChannel 13 "We're always looking for opportunities to expand the network to additional homes and businesses.  A variety of factors affect our expansion decisions, including the number of additional homes or businesses we can reach, geographic or construction challenges and overall economic feasibility.  We plan to resurvey the area to determine the costs associated with extending our network to Mr. Dingeman's street,” emailed Lara Pritchard with Charter Communications. 

The same company spokesperson says Charter has made a tremendous investment to expand its network to unserved areas across New York state.  Charter, the spokesman said has completed the extension of its network to 100,421 new homes and businesses as of January 31, 2020.  The state is requiring 145,000 homes and businesses by September 30, 2021.  Spectrum the spokesperson stated is paying in full the costs of those homes they are connecting in underserved areas. The company has also committed an additional $12 million to help fund additional broadband to areas that are still without available service.

Empire State Development told NewsChannel 13 Dingeman’s census block makes him eligible for NYS Broadband through Hughesnetny.com. His address is eligible for satellite broadband options. Dingeman tells NewsChannel 13 they appreciate that, but it still isn’t a viable option working from home full-time, overseeing a small business and trying to utilize online resources for his children. The connection and quality does not allow for what it is his family and others need to accomplish every day.

They also say the following:

  • In light of the present circumstances, New York successfully partnered with HughesNet to improve Internet access for all enhanced satellite customers, particularly those working or learning from home.
  • The enhanced satellite service offered through the New NY Broadband Program utilizes Hughes’ latest Gen5 satellite Internet service, which delivers download speeds of 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps. Hughes’ prior service, Gen4, was capable of download speeds of no more than 15 Mbps.
  • The New NY Broadband Program ensures affordability. The BPO obtained a requirement to offer a $60 price for state-funded satellite service, a waiver of installation fees to $49, and enhanced data caps with no hard caps. Service plans with increased data allowances are also available.
  • There has been a significant increase in HughesNet subscribership since Governor Cuomo’s “New York on PAUSE” executive order as families across the areas awarded to HughesNet under the New NY Broadband Program turn to this critical lifeline for work, learning, accessing information, and maintaining social connections.
  • The areas awarded to Hughes are located in unserved census blocks where the New NY Broadband Program received no qualifying bids by other Internet providers; these areas would thus remain unserved absent the Hughes awards.


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