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Brasher board asked for permission to survey residents about broadband Internet access

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BRASHER FALLS - A man involved with bringing broadband Internet access to the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation is hoping to expand the service’s reach into nearby unserved or underserved communities.

Jeff Beekhoo asked for permission from the Brasher Town Board this week to survey residents to see if they were interested in the service.

James F. Hidy, representing the North Country Broadband organization, said the survey would first be given to town board members for their review and approval before distributing it to residents for their input. Surveys will then be included as part of a grant application, along with a cost analysis, in an effort to obtain funding that would allow expansion of the service.

“We want to basically give everybody the opportunity to get broadband,” Mr. Beekhoo said.

The survey will ask questions such as who would be interested in Internet service and what price they would pay.

He said he also wants to use a sampling of Brasher residents to test the service to see how it runs before expanding it to other customers.

“If the residents have a warm, fuzzy feeling, we’ll go from there,” Mr. Hidy said.

Mr. Beekhoo, who said tribal officials brought him from Florida about a year-and-a-half ago to set up broadband service, told board members one of the items on his agenda was getting service to all St. Lawrence County townships where it’s not currently available. He plans to use a combination of wireless and fiber optic technology and hopes to start construction in the spring “at least in St. Lawrence County.”

His plan is to use as many water towers as possible to set up the necessary equipment and, if there are “dark spots,” asking residents for permission to put up a tower.

“It’s not a small project. It’s going to be a huge project. I need a lot of support from people like you who see a need for it,” he said.

But it’s a project that will be worth it in the end, Mr. Beekhoo said, noting that broadband Internet access would open more avenues for future economic development and current individual businesses.

Farmers who don’t currently have Internet access, for instance, could use broadband services to help them with their businesses, Mr. Beekhoo said. In some cases, he said, they may qualify for free grants for phones and Internet as part of the Farm Bill.

“But they can’t get it without broadband,” Mr. Beekhoo said.

Mr. Hidy said providing broadband Internet services would also be beneficial to college students who may have to participate in distance learning via computers.

In addition, having the broadband access would allow doctors and patients to participate in telemedicine, where a patient can be seen via video conferencing by a doctor at another facility.

Mr. Hidy said that while a local cable company offers $14 Internet packages to customers in areas they serve “the speed is not conducive to kids who are working or anyone who needs speed.”

While Mr. Beekhoo said their intention wasn’t to compete with other services, he said their goal is to keep their cost 20 percent below other local services.

Brasher officials gave the go-ahead for Mr. Beekhoo to survey residents, noting the service would enhance the quality of life in the community.

“It gives folks who are underserved or not served an opportunity” to have broadband Internet access, Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said.

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