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Rep. Owens sees broadband as crucial to development

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NICHOLVILLE — Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, stopped at the headquarters of Nicholville Telephone Co. on Friday to survey the progress of a massive broadband Internet construction project financed largely through federal stimulus money.

“This is one of those infrastructure pieces that we have to have if we are going to have economic development in the north country,” said Mr. Owens.

Using roughly $33 million in stimulus money awarded in 2010 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Slic Network Solutions, a subsidiary of Nicholville Telephone Co., has placed 800 miles of fiber-optic cables throughout the north country.

“We’re very close to being done,” said Philip J. Wagschal, president of Slic.

Mr. Wagschal said construction on the project is expected to be completed by March. Services allowing customers to access high-definition television should be completed by June.

The stimulus money saw the 110-year-old company increase its coverage substantially.

Before 2010, Mr. Wagschal said, Slic served roughly 1,500 people. The current construction project has allowed the company to add an additional 2,000 customers to the network.

Despite the low population density in many regions Slic provides coverage for, Mr. Wagschal said, the business model is sustainable.

“If you look at the model with stimulus money to cover the cost of building there is a strong (return on investment),” said Mr. Wagschal. “We’re profitable.”

Mr. Wagschal added that the next step is for the company to invest more of its own money in projects further expanding coverage.

Mr. Owens said the increased broadband coverage could provide substantial economic benefits to the region.

“It’ll attract some of our friends in Canada to come do business here,” he said.

The increased coverage also adds value for summer residents who may be able to spend more time in the area now that they have the ability to work remotely using the Internet.

Mr. Owens said he wants to facilitate industry networking, and stressed the importance of industry leaders like those at Slic sitting down with local officials and chamber of commerce representatives who know their region.

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