Installation of local broadband expansion, ErieNet, begins

TOWN OF AURORA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County is making progress on a plan to expand broadband into underserved communities.

Speaking from the Town of Aurora DPW Highway Barn in West Falls Tuesday morning, County Executive Mark Poloncarz shared that the installation of components for ErieNet has begun.

A significant portion of funding for this massive undertaking comes from federal American Rescue Plan funds, which were provided to local governments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This mission is to create a foundation to address the broadband needs and improve services in underserved areas of the community, enabling world-class broadband investment and deployment countywide,” Erie County’s website says.

Plans for ErieNet pre-date the pandemic, but Poloncarz says being plunged into that situation further highlighted the need for fast internet everywhere.

Using students learning from home as an example, Poloncarz said, “There were significant portions of Erie County that were being left behind because they did not have high-speed broadband.”

What started as a feasibility study in 2017 eventually became a business plan two years later. Although the pandemic put plans for better broadband access on the back burner, ErieNet is now expected to be fully operating by the end of 2025, with partial operation anticipated next year.

2024 will also be the year when the vast majority of installation work takes place. Workers have begun to lay underground fibers, a process that is expected to continue through the winter. During Tuesday’s conference, Poloncarz said he believes the initial labor took place in the Town of Boston.

ErieNet has received nearly all of the fiber optic cable it needs for the project, which will include more than 400 total miles.

“Each spool is eight feet high and holds 20,000 feet of fiber,” a notice from the County Executive’s office said.

ErieNet Executive Director and former Eden Town Supervisor Melissa Hartman says rural areas like Boston, as well as inner-city locations in Buffalo, are the places in need of this broadband option.

“Every time we expand a network in a community, it expands opportunity for those residents,” Hartman said.

Hartman said there could be further expansion beyond the 400+ miles in the current plans.

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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