LYONS — Wayne County is close to inking a deal that would bring broadband internet service to every home in the county.
It won’t come cheaply, though.
Charter Communications, which operates Spectrum, was chosen between two companies submitting proposals to close broadband gaps that continue to plague parts of the county, in particular its more rural areas.
In a special Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning, Economic Development Director Brian Pincelli said Charter estimated it can do the job for $14 million, far below the $29 million estimate by Williamsville, Erie County-based Wraithtek, which Pincelli said has about 10,000 customers in the Buffalo area.
According to Pincelli, Charter said it could provide high-speed internet service for $45 in a bundle with its television package. Wraithtek said it would charge $60, Pincelli said.
No other internet service providers submitted proposals.
Spectrum is the principal internet service provider in the county. Pincelli noted the company has made a significant effort over the past three years to widen its internet footprint in Wayne County, but major gaps remain. About 3,400 county households still don’t have access to high-speed internet service, about half what it was just a few years ago.
“The obvious priority here (of the project) is to get every part of Wayne County serviced,” Pincelli said.
He said the public-private partnership plan to address internet service gaps — as opposed to the county creating its own broadband infrastructure — “is really the model moving forward.” There is considerable work ahead to put the ambitious plan in motion, Pincelli emphasized, with negotiations on the final cost to the county upcoming.
The county also wants to extend the maximum connection from the line to the home — without additional fees — from 150 feet to 1,500 feet. The reason: Many county homes have longer road setbacks.
“The plan is to refine this (proposal),” Pincelli said, noting that the final deal will come before the Board of Supervisors for approval, likely early next year.
Board Chairman Ken Miller of Palmyra said the county can wait no longer to address broadband gaps.
“We’re a little behind some of the other counties,” Miller said. “I think it’s important that we have a partner.”
Added Pincelli: “I think this puts us in a good position partnership-wise to get this gap closed.”
Matt Ury, the county’s director of internet technology, said Charter will be offering speeds of up to 1,000 megabytes per second through its new fiber lines.
“(Charter) will not upgrade everything else in the county,” Ury stressed.
As for funding, Pincelli and County Administrator Rick House said federal and state money is available to defray project costs.
“We would prefer that it not hit the local taxpayer,” House said after the meeting, adding that supervisors are committed to ensuring all county residents have high-speed internet access so that it becomes a utility on par with water, sewer and electric.
He said there are people moving into the county from large metros such as New York, and they need reliable and fast broadband to work remotely.
House noted the educational component as well. Some students in eastern Wayne County attending remotely during Covid had to be driven to parking lots outside of schools to get internet service and take part in their virtual classes.
“That’s unconscionable,” House said.
Pincelli said that it could take up to three years to complete the project.
House lauded Pincelli’s work on the project, which included formation of an ad hoc broadband committee.
“Brian has done an excellent job on this,” House said.