With construction of a major community broadband network behind them, local leaders in New York State’s Southern Tier region are now considering the potential for the recently completed dark fiber network.
Since becoming operational in 2014, the Southern Tier Network (STN) is already serving over 100 industrial and government service entities across the region. STN is a not-for-profit, local development corporation that built, owns, and manages the network for the region.
Jack Benjamin, president of economic development organization, Three Rivers Development Corporation, explained the value of the network to the region in a July Star Gazette article:
This backbone fiber that we've got here is a huge benefit for us going forward. As this technology piece continues to be even more important in the future, because it's going to be changing all the time, we will have the base here that allows us to change with the marketplace. Part of our thought process here is we want to keep what we've got in terms of businesses and provide the infrastructure that allows them to stay here and be competitive.
Building Out for the Future
When we wrote about the STN in 2011, the planned backbone of the network included a 235-mile fiber-optic ring stretching across Steuben, Schuyler, and Chemung counties. Glass producer Corning paid for $10 million of the initial $12.2 million cost to deploy with the remaining balance paid for by the three counties where the network is located. The STN is now 260 miles total, including strands that run to city centers and select business areas in the tri-county area.
Additional expansions on the network are pending, including a 70-mile extension to neighboring Yates County. Thanks to a $5 million award from New York’s Regional Economic Development Council, the STN will also expand the network into “targeted business development areas” in Broome County and Tioga Counties. The network connects to the existing Axcess Ontario, another nonprofit fiber network in neighboring Ontario County.
Businesses Waiting for Fiber
Despite the network’s early success, major city areas continue to lack fast, reliable broadband connectivity because connections are happening slowly. Mike Mitchell owns multiple businesses in an Elmira industrial area in Chemung County, New York, where lit service is not yet available. Mitchell, who owns other businesses in neighboring counties, is eager for better connectivity to his business properties in the STN region. He described his frustration with his current poor service to the Star Gazette:
It's very, very slow. It's hurting our productivity. We hear complaints from our tenants and all the other businesses on this side of the street. We have 15 employees here, and they're all on the Internet probably 90 percent of the time. If we can increase our productivity, obviously, it would be better for our business and better savings for our customers.
Closer than They’ve Ever Been
Community leaders are envisioning ways the network will improve the region’s economic development. George Miner, president of Southern Tier Economic Growth, Inc., a private not-for-profit organization aimed at economic development in Chemung County, sees growth potential in large industrial and governmental entities because they need to frequently and efficiently transport large data files.
Other community leaders see STN as a tool to serve residents in ways other than through economic development. Steve Manning, chief executive officer of STN, notes that home property values hinge today on broadband access. Prospective homebuyers see a fast, affordable, reliable broadband connection as essential as other utilities. Manning also points to a more holistic community service role for the STN. Again, from the Star Gazette:
Why was this done? It was done for public safety reasons. It was done for education and healthcare, for the community, developing fiber capacity that we didn't have. It's a civic utility. That's really what this is.