Over the past several years I have spent a great deal of my time working on communications issues. The Legislative committee that I chair is the “Facilities and Communications Committee” (“F&CC”). We have seen significant progress for both the E-911 System and Broadband over recent weeks. Here are some of the highlights.
Several years ago our Sheriff’s Department applied for and received a $5.9 million grant from the NYS Department of Homeland Security to upgrade our E-911 System. We are almost doubling the number of E-911 towers with associated radio equipment. We are adding licensed microwave equipment to enable the towers to communicate with one another, and the control center located in the County Public Safety Building (Jail) outside of Belmont. This will give our system better reception, and better communications with other law enforcement agencies and numerous emergency responder agencies. On Wednesday, March 2nd the F&CC approved a contract with Motorola Corp. for $3.052 million to construct 6 new towers that will complete our E-911 network. That contract now moves to the full Legislature for final approval.
Over the past several months work has been going on inside the Public Safety Building to renovate the communications control room for E-911. Although the building and equipment are only about 10 years old, much of our equipment is now obsolete or out-dated. Since we are upgrading much of the radio equipment, it has been necessary to upgrade some of the other equipment with which it interfaces. That work is now nearing completion. One significant benefit is that most of the new equipment is “P-25” compliant. That is the standard established by the federal Department of Homeland Security after communications broke down after the terrorist attack on 9/11/01. When completed our communications system should be one of the most advanced and secure systems in the state.
The upgraded E-911 System has the built-in capacity to handle far more data traffic than it will be routinely experience. The F&CC noted that surplus capacity and retained a consultant to design a Broadband system that could utilize that technology and those facilities. We then applied for and received a $1.0 million grant to build a “wireless” Internet Broadband system, utilizing the E-911 towers and microwave communication facilities. Radio transmitters will be placed on the towers to send/receive signals from radios placed on individual homes and businesses throughout the County. By “piggy-backing” on the E-911 equipment our Broadband system has been able to invest in better radios and other equipment. The Broadband system is being constructed simultaneously with the E-911 system. As the E-911 towers and microwave system goes “on-line,” the Broadband system will also become operational.
To operate the Broadband system the County has incorporated a Not-For-Profit organization, known as the “Allegany County Telecommunications Development Corporation (“ACTDC”). A board of directors has been appointed, and an Executive Director, Ryan Cool, was recently hired. This organization will sign up “last-mile providers” who will deliver Internet service to houses and businesses in Allegany County. Numerous contracts, regulations and agreements will be involved.
In the short time that Allegany County has been working to provide Broadband service to our citizens, we have witnessed stupendous changes in the field. Users want/need much more “bandwidth” than was anticipated. NYS now wants our system to provide more than 10 times the bandwidth (speed) originally specified. Fortunately the backbone of our County Broadband system can deliver those speeds. However, we had planned on using less expensive radios for most “last mile” customers. To achieve the higher performance it will be necessary to use more expensive radios. Governor Cuomo announced a $500 million grant program to pay for the necessary upgrades. Unfortunately, these new grants have eligibility standards we apparently cannot meet. I have spent numerous hours this weekend studying the Grant rules to see if there is a way to qualify. We will keep you posted on further developments for this important project.