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ErieNet plans back online after pandemic showed how much of Erie County lacks web access


Erie County is actively talking with home and business internet providers about using the planned ErieNet backbone system to provide “last mile” web services to the large sections of the county with limited or no service.

The more than year-long, pandemic-driven restrictions that forced many residents and students to try working and learning from home brought the non-wired regions of Erie County into a much more public light. It’s led county officials to take a very different attitude towards web service than when County Executive Mark Poloncarz first began talking about the ErieNet plan for open access several years ago.

ECC Technologies, Inc. of Penfield is working on a study for the design and plan for ErieNet, expected to be completed in eight months. The plan for ErieNet will rely on federal funding from the American Rescue Plan.

Deputy County Budget Director Benjamin Swanekamp said there will be conversations with surrounding counties and more-rural internet providers about collaborating.

“Some of the most successful open access networks in the state do go across county lines, like the Southern Tier Open Access Network that covers much of the southern part of the state, and the company is based in Corning,” Swanekamp said.

Swanekamp said wiring for ErieNet will be installed mostly overhead on the same kinds of poles as telephone lines, and will use rights-of-way the county already owns like the Buffalo Southern Rail line from South Buffalo to Gowanda.

But installation from those major lines to home routers will rely on local suppliers.

“For a typical home and small business delivery, we will be relying on separate last mile providers to work with us,” Swanekamp said. “So being able to make sure our pricing and design fits last mile providers' needs will be a really important part of the process, so we can collaborate with them on delivering that final service.”

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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