KEENE — The numbers are in, and as far as Internet connectivity in the Adirondacks goes, the Town of Keene is plugged-in.
According to a detailed report released last week by the High Peaks Educational Foundation, a locally-owned network has been extended to provide 90 percent of homes and businesses in the small town with broadband Internet.
“We started at around 59 percent and ended with just over 90,” said David Mason, who co-directed the project with Jim Herman, both residents of Keene. “It’s been a huge success with a lot of community support.”
The project began with the vision of universal broadband for the entire town, but as things progressed, according to Mason, the specific goal of 90 percent was more realistic with some homes being “way out in the sticks.”
“Those other homes on the edges of town could get service in the future, but things are going to get pretty expensive in terms of infrastructure,” Mason said.
Of full-time homes and businesses, 97 percent currently get service and 80 percent of part-time homes are connected.
When the project began, after an informational hearing in Dec. 2006, one of the initial goals was to get broadband to every home with a student or staff member of the Keene Central School (KCS), according to the report. A goal that was met in the fall of 2009.
“As board members of the education foundation we thought it was a real disadvantage for kids in Keene not to have the Internet,” Herman said in a recent phone interview. “Especially for students heading off to college. Getting good at the Internet, means using it.”
Herman said he has heard success stories about the impact the broadband network is having on the district.
“We’ve heard from parents who say they have a much better window into what their kids and learning,” he added. “That kids come home and show them ‘look, look what we did today.’”
According to Keene School Superintendent Cynthia Ford-Johnston, there has been a good response from both teachers and students.
“We had a lot of students come up with ways to raise funds for the project,” she said. “I think it has gotten a good response within the school.”
The town-wide broadband initiative was possible through a public-private partnership with the locally owned cable company, Keene Valley Video and Internet (KVVI).
“A major goal was to make the (Internet service provider) KVVI a sustainable business that the town can rely on in the future,” the report states. “This meant the business had to generate enough money to (1) pay market-rate salaries to the people who work there and (2) pay for ongoing maintenance and upgrade to continue enhancing the speed of the service.”
According to Mason, the project saved KVVI from going out of business.
“It made us a much more sustainable business, there’s no doubt about that,” said Mike Whitney, who owns KVVI with his brother Tim. “We’ve had a lot of people behind us and the thank-yous could go on forever. This was really a town-wide project and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”
According to the report, the KVVI’s revenue has grown 84 percent while costs have grown only 77 percent.
“Having an ISP that’s a small locally-owned business that only serves our town is one of the things that made this so possible,” Mason said.
Who funded the
According to Mason, all funding was sourced through the High Peaks Education Foundation, a non-profit organization, with 17 percent coming from a state economic development grant, 42 percent from private donations, 23 percent private construction fees and 19 percent raised by KVVI.
“It’s gotten a lot of community support,” Herman said. “We laid a lot of the ground work with public meetings and got the word out about the benefits and the community took over from there.”
Herman said Keene has a long history of community supported infrastructure and that one of the town’s first water systems was set-up and donated by a local family.
“It’s unusual for a community to do this sort of thing, but we had a history to go off,” he added.
Sam Fisk, president of the High Peaks Education Foundation, said the broadband network was not only a huge benefit for the school, but also for the town.
“I think it helps to draw a general interest to the area,” he said. “There are some people, who come looking at real estate, and one of the things they immediately want to know about is Internet access. It makes the town more appealing, and attracts people to the area and to the school.”
Mason said the overall message was that having a good Internet connection in a rural setting can be incredibly positive by not only saving money, but drawing in a growing number of people who work primarily from their homes. It will also allow citizen of the town to start up Internet-based businesses, he added.
In writing the 25 page final report co-authors, Mason and Herman said the goal was mostly to sum up the before and after numbers.
“The hope is also that this information — how we chose different technology, how it was funded — will help other towns in the park with similar problems,” Mason said. “It’s a different approach to a problem lots of communities might be facing.”
To view the full report visit: www.lifeinkeeneny.com/artic/14958/keene_ny_broadband_project_report.pdf.