HOLLAND PATENT — Congressman Anthony Brindisi, D-22, Utica, who has made expanding and improving broadband-internet service an issue since he was elected and while he was a state lawmaker, visited a company doing just that during a tour of Oneida County on Friday.
Brindisi toured the headquarters of Oneida County Rural Telephone, which in late 2016 was named winner of a nearly $3.3 million grant to promote expanding fiber-optic service in central Oneida County, including Steuben, Remsen, Floyd, Boonville and parts of Westernville and Ava.
The company spent about another $3 million on its own for infrastructure such as connection lines and switches. It’s now making connections from the main lines to customers’ homes and businesses.
OCRT was founded in the 1905 to provide telephone service in and around Holland Patent. It is affiliated through common owners with Northland Communications, founded in the 1980s at first to provide long-distance service as then-dominant AT&T was being broken up under federal anti-trust law. Together, the companies employ about 115 people, all but about 25 at the headquarters on Main Street in Holland Patent, providing telecommunications services to residential and business customers.
Brindisi plugged a survey run on his congressional website to test internet service and speeds. The survey was launched in November after it came to light that Federal Communcations Commissions maps showing rural coverage can depict Census tracts with as few as a single home as having high-speed internet available.
“As we talk about infrastructure at the federal level a big piece of that I’m pushing for is rural broadband expansion,” Brindisi told reporters. “We did that with electrification after the New Deal. We can do that with broadband into rural areas. It’s impossible to go about your daily activities nowadays without internet and high-speed internet. We want to make sure that people who are living especially in our rural areas have access to it.”
OCRT and Northland President James McCarthy briefed Brindisi about issues faced by his and other independent telecommunications companies and the whole industry. Among them are a growing patchwork of state-level laws on internet neutrality and privacy, which can be difficult especially for a small company like his. Having service intentionally slowed, or “throttled,” by large, national providers in favor of their content would hurt customers and the company and should be avoided, McCarthy said.
He noted that as a legacy phone company, OCRT is regulated by the state Public Service Commission, yet faces competition from less-regulated companies that can provide voice service over the internet, and from cell-phone companies. Poor service by some companies can paint the whole industry with a broad negative brush, McCarthy said.
Brindisi has in particularly criticized Charter Communications and its Spectrum cable TV and internet brand, accusing it of, among other things, reneging on pledges made as part of its merger with Time Warner Cable to roll out its broadband service across upstate, and over billing and marketing practices.
McCarthy told Brindisi that the company is basically re-building its network. Traditional copper wires were built to carry voice only, and while DSL service was much improved over the original dial-up internet service, it lacks capacity needed as internet services expand.
“Our network is not designed for today. It’s designed for the future,” McCarthy told Brindisi. “With true fiber the whole infrastructure, it’s future-proof.”