(TNS) — Syracuse lawmakers are reviewing resolutions that will allow the city to use state money to expand its low-cost Internet service into five more neighborhoods.

The city has secured preliminary approval for a $10.8 million state grant to fund infrastructure buildout that would bring its Surge Link high-speed broadband service to up to about 4,700 low-income households in the Valley, Skunk City, Near Northeast, Washington Square neighborhoods and part of the North Side.

Syracuse launched a Surge Link pilot in October in a test area that included the Southwest, Near Westside and Brighton neighborhoods, with the goal of signing up 2,500 households by the end of 2024. There are about 700 customers in that area so far.


At its initial rollout, the service was free because the federal Affordable Connectivity Program subsidized much of the cost, but when Congress allowed that funding to run out last month, the price is now $10 per month.

That’s still considerably cheaper than market rates for monthly high-speed broadband, and the city is eager to bring the service to more households.

Earlier this year, the council authorized Mayor Ben Walsh’s administration to apply for funding from a new state program that’s offering federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to local governments for municipal Internet infrastructure buildouts. Syracuse would kick in $1.4 million from its own American Rescue Plan Act money. It has already used $3.5 million in ARPA money to pay for the infrastructure and administration of the pilot program, which is done under a contract with Geneva-based Community Broadband Networks.

The council was scheduled to vote Monday on resolutions that would amend the original contract with Community Broadband Networks and bring the total cost up to $15.7 million. Councilor Patrona Jones-Rowser, however, withdrew the items and told syracuse.com that she wants to discuss with city officials how they can get more people signed up for the service. She expects a vote to move forward at the council’s next regular meeting on July 1.

City officials hope to have the new service territory online by the spring of 2025.

Walsh’s goal is to eventually have Surge Link available citywide. The areas targeted for initial rollouts are based on Census data showing average income levels and access to the Internet.

At a council committee meeting last month, city officials said they are evaluating business models for making Surge Link self-sustaining beyond ARPA funding, which must be spent by 2026. One approach under serious consideration is to offer Surge Link to all city residents, with a subsidized rate for low-income residents and a competitive market rate for others. If they can get enough customers paying at market rate, that could cover the costs of the subsidies.

In addition to the broadband service, income-qualified Surge Link customers can buy heavily discounted tablets or laptop computers. The city also provides educational service for customers so they know how to use equipment and maximize the benefits of high-speed Internet.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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