ANGELICA – The county’s wireless broadband project has four subscribers less than two months before work has to be done, but officials expect the situation to change shortly. The Allegany County Board of Legislators voted 13-1 to enter into lease agreements with seven area fire departments: Andover, Rushford, Oramel, Short Tract, Wiscoy-Rossburg, Belfast and Cuba fire departments; AT&T, Auxiliary Campus Enterprises & Services at Alfred State College and WXXI Public Broadcasting Council. Those agreements would allow the county to install smaller “microcell” equipment on existing towers owned by the entities, allowing better service for areas not served directly by one of the county’s 13 main towers. Two last-mile providers may connect customers to the system, Win-Win Wireless of Houghton and, more recently, Tel Star Inc. of Varysburg.
Win-Win has signed up a handful of customers only, said Legislator Phil Curran, R-Alfred Station, who also chairs the Allegany County Telecommunications Development Corp. board of directors, but said that was only because the system was unable to connect to all the towers in the county.
“There’s four right now, but in the next week the system should be entirely operable,” Curan said. On Wednesday, the county’s planning and economic development committee learned that connections to the Corbin Hill tower near Belmont — currently the only one operational — will soon be able to connect through new towers in Alma and Angelica. Once those towers are online, officials said the network will be able to add subscribers countywide. Initial speed tests of the system were promising this spring, with a download rate of about 10 megabits per second.
That speed is on par with a typical cable modem — and about 400 times faster than a dial-up modem, based on 1980s technology which is still the only option for some rural residents. The only real requirement for connecting to the system is a clear line of sight from the tower to the subscriber, which is more of a problem in the southern part of the county. The microcell towers, which are 65 to 80 feet tall and consist of a single pole with transceiver equipment for local connections, will connect to the main towers in areas that have limited line of sight to the main towers. A microcell would likely go in a small hamlet with dozens of potential customers.
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Several municipalities will see broadband construction projects beginning within a few years thanks to a flurry of grants approved earlier this year for land telephone operators. Those systems will rely on hardwired connections to homes and businesses, and some homes in those areas will still require access through a wireless system. The work was funded primarily with a $800,000 state grant in 2013, with the county providing $200,000 as a match for the grant. The deadline for the grant funds to be spent is Aug.
31, said Chairman Curt Crandall, R-Belfast, who told the board that the lease agreements needed to be authorized Thursday in order to meet the deadline.
“There was a lot of leftover money in the grant because we came in under budget on rest of it,” Crandall said.
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Linda Munro is angry with BT Openreach
A VETERAN Sutherland councillor has accused BT Openreach of stymieing technological and business advancement in the county because of the “poor level” of service it provides.
Linda Munro claims the area enjoyed a better service from the telecoms provider 30 years ago than it does today. Cllr Munro, who represents North, West and Central Sutherland, spoke out after senior BT Openreach managers failed for a second time to appear at a meeting of Sutherland County Committee to discuss growing concerns. Councillors are now writing to BT Scotland chief Brendan Dick to express their “severe disappointment” at what is being seen as a snub to Sutherland.
Cllr Munro, the newly-elected chairman of the committee, said: “The communities across Sutherland all speak highly of the engineers on the ground, but this is about the management of the workload and investment in our infrastructure. In short, it’s about delivering a fit-for-purpose service.
“Thirty years ago if your phone went off, it got fixed.”
However, BT has said the reasons for the non-attendance were valid and it is working closely with Sutherland communities to provide superfast broadband. Frustration over months of delays by BT Openreach in repairing lost phone and broadband connections and also in establishing new connections has been slowly building up across the county. There is also anger over low broadband speeds. Cllr Munro said this week that disgruntled Sutherland residents were in constant contact with her and fellow councillors regarding telecoms issues.
She said: “There is a lot of upset in different pockets of the area and we all know of examples within our two wards. Every one of us have communities where the stories are just horrific.”
Cllr Munro added it was particularly concerning when vulnerable, older people in remote and rural areas were affected and ambitious plans to progress the delivery of tele-medicine and tele-care in the area could not go ahead without reliable phone and broadband connections. Tele-medicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology – is viewed as a solution to provide care in remote areas where GP recruitment and retention is a problem.
Cllr Munro also claimed the telecoms problems were deterring businesses from setting up in or relocating to the north. She continued: “The development of tele-medicine and tele-care is dependent on sustainable communications but at the moment that is just castles in the sand.”
In a bid to talk over the issues with BT Scotland, Sutherland County Committee issued an invitation to attend its February meeting, but representatives were unable to. A second invitation was issued to attend the June 23 meeting, but no-one turned up.
An apology was received as the meeting was under way. Cllr Munro said: “For the second time running BT has not taken up the opportunity to send a representative to Sutherland County Committee so elected members can hold face-to-face discussions and raise issues and concerns on behalf of their constituents.
“We are troubled that for the second time in a row BT has not deemed the ongoing concerns of our constituents or status of our committee worthy of attending.
“All Sutherland members are united on this issue and we will be sending a letter to BT expressing our severe disappointment on how the folk of Sutherland are being treated and requesting that its chief executive take the concerns of our communities seriously and comes along to our next meeting.”
A BT Scotland spokesman said the decision by the county committee to send out a news release castigating BT for not attending the two meetings was “surprising and unfortunate” as on both occasions the committee was provided with reasons and apologies. He said: “On the first occasion Openreach’s senior operations manager for the area could not accept the offer to meet on the date and made the committee aware of this.
“And on the second occasion our representative did not attend because a personal emergency arose at the last minute.
Again the committee was informed of this and an offer was made to set up a separate meeting at which all issues of concern could be discussed.
“Unfortunately there has been no response to this offer but it remains on the table and we will be happy to take part in a future meeting.”
MP Jamie Stone has vowed to press Parliament for improvements to broadband speeds and connection in the Highlands. NEWLY elected far north MP Jamie Stone promised to use his first speech in parliament to raise the issue of poor broadband in the north. Mr Stone said he was “not surprised” at a report showing broadband speeds in the Highlands are the worst in mainland Britain.
A survey by consumers’ association Which? showed the region has the third-slowest speed in all 389 of the UK’s local authority areas, only faring better than Orkney and Shetland. The damning report showed even the Western Isles, Highland’s neighbouring island council, performed better. During tests conducted between January and March, the average speed in Highland was 8.8 megabits per second (Mbps), falling short of the 10 Mbps standard deemed acceptable in the UK Government’s universal service obligation and almost half the UK average. Lib Dem Mr Stone, who has also served as an MSP and councillor, will raise the issue in his maiden speech next week.
“I’m not surprised at all by this,” he said. “I have had steady complaints about this for the last 10 years.
It’s so frustrating because we are always hearing about improvements and superfast but it continues to be such a big problem after all this time.
“We have one of the most competitive tourism offerings in Highland but without decent broadband it completely undermines the hard work everyone is doing.
“This is one of the issues I am going to be raising when I make my maiden speech”
The rest of Scotland also fared badly with only one area, Dundee City, making the top 10 for best speeds.
Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for connectivity and MSP for Inverness and Nairn, said Scottish Government help is responsible for 75 per cent of the Highlands’ access to fibre broadband and without input from Holyrood it could have been just 21 per cent.
“The Scottish Government is on track to deliver fibre broadband access to at least 95 per cent of premises across Scotland by the end of this year,” he said. “Without our investment only 66 per cent of premises would have been reached with as little as 21 per cent coverage across the Highlands and no coverage at all in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
“I am of course aware that many homes and businesses do not yet have access.
That is why we’ve made a commitment to extend superfast broadband to 100 per cent of premises across Scotland by 2021, building on the success of our fibre broadband investment programme.”