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Goals for fiber optic internet discussed at Cornwall forum

CORNWALL — A January survey found that many Cornwall residents find their current internet service “satisfactory” in speed and costs, according to findings presented Monday, March 29, at a community forum attended virtually by 42 local residents. 

The findings come as both Optimum and Comcast, local internet providers, have announced the impending availability of gigabit-speed connection in the Northwest Corner — although details of when, where and how much remain to be divulged.

The survey was conducted by the Cornwall internet Committee, an ad hoc group exploring ways to hasten the arrival of broadband internet service to the town. Of the 275 people who responded to the survey, 63 said their internet reliability was “good” or “excellent,” with another 87 rating it as “satisfactory. 

Current contracts for internet service promise speeds of more than 100 megabits per second (mbps) for nearly half of survey respondents, although actual speeds vary. A third of the respondents reported measured download speeds of less than 25 mbps. According to committee members, the emerging norm for internet connection is 1 gigabit per second (gbps), citing as an example Block Island, R.I., where 10 gbps has been established.

Most Cornwall residents who responded use the web for communications, information gathering, shopping and entertainment, the survey revealed. More than two thirds conduct business or work from home, and about half have used the internet for telemedicine.

During the discussion, committee spokesperson Gary Steinkohl clarified that the group specifically seeks fiber-optic-to-the-home (FTTH) service for the community, and wants to exert pressure on Optimum, Frontier and other providers to commit to firm dates and locations for its implementation. 

Fiber optic cables carry pulses of laser light instead of electrical energy conveyed by conventional (coaxial) cable. Beyond conducting far more information at faster speeds than cable, fiber lasts longer and is immune to electrical interference. 

It is costly, however, and would essentially make obsolescent the many miles of cable already strung along utility poles. At an installation cost that Steinkohl quoted of more than $50,000 per mile, fiber takes much longer to earn back its investment when few families and businesses occupy those miles in rural areas, compared with densely populated urban sites.

Steinkohl reported that the committee had recently received email assurances from Optimum that fiber-optic-to-home service for Cornwall was in its plans and scheduled to be in rollout as soon as 2022. He said, however, that “we’re unsure whether they will follow through. We’re hopeful, but we will continue in our efforts.”

Forum attendees had few questions about the survey findings, and mostly discussed ways to convince internet providers to accelerate implementation. 

One commenter chastised the committee for exploring the option of a publicly funded community fiber optic network, citing high potential costs among other issues. Steinkohl responded that such explorations put pressure on providers like Optimum to take action. 

“To not do anything now is in the worst interest of Cornwall,” he said.

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