BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – The demand for quality internet has never been higher as more people work from home during the pandemic and utilize streaming apps like Zoom, WebEx, Skype, FaceTime, and more to complete their work.
Internet is also being used for streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and other popular entertainment apps. Using all of the apps at once could cause connection issues for those who don’t have high speeds at their disposal.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Rochester-based Greenlight Networks had plans to come into the City of Buffalo to provide a fiber-optic alternative to residents who rely predominantly on Charter Communications to get their internet. Greenlight still plans to bring their network to Buffalo, though CEO Mark Murphy said the pandemic has slowed their efforts.
“The team has been continuing to focus on our Buffalo expansion,” Murphy told WBEN. “We’ve identified some key locations within the City of Buffalo, in particular, that are going to be key locations for us to place our hub locations.”
Murphy would not say where that location is because they are still in negotiations with developers but said there has been a heavy interest in Buffalo, Cheektowaga, North Tonawanda, Grand Island, and other parts of the region. There were approximately 14,000 people who filled out the company survey and expressed interest.
Greenlight continues to coordinate with city leaders to use their infrastructure to build out their network and hope to have an announcement in the coming weeks regarding where they’ll have internet in Buffalo.
Charter Communications expects peak demand on their network to increase by 20 percent on downstream traffic and by 32 percent on upstream traffic during the pandemic.
“In many households daytime internet traffic has doubled, even tripled from pre-pandemic levels; however, peak demand continues to be during the primetime TV-viewing hours, 8-9 p.m.,” Stephanie Mitchko-Beale, Charter’s Chief Technology Officer, said in a Q&A on the company’s website. “The demand on both the downstream and upstream traffic is driven by streaming video applications. We also have seen a substantial increase in the use of other applications in the past month for remote work. The use of video communications services such as WebEx, Zoom and Skype has increased, and downloads of video games have more than doubled in the past month.
Charter announced last week that they will not layoff or furlough any of their employees for the next two months in an effort to reassure their customers that internet will continue to run as normal.
What about rural communities?
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz last year announced a plan to expand internet access into rural communities with an initiative called “ErieNet”. The $20 million plan would create a 360-mile “internet backbone”, which would allow internet service providers to latch onto the county infrastructure and only use equipment to connect from the county infrastructure to the homes or business in rural areas.
“In addition, Erie County would become the county’s own internet provider, connecting county facilities like highways barns, libraries, parks, buildings, etc.,” Benjamin Swanekamp, Deputy Director of the county’s budget office, said. “Thereby, it would save the county money.”
The county is still moving ahead with the project and will receive designs for the project on Thursday. Swanekamp said they sent out the requests for design in March as the pandemic reached Erie County and gave designers extra time to come up with an overview of the infrastructure.
There is no timetable for when they will select the design for ErieNet as officials juggle multiple tasks related to the pandemic.
“Financially speaking, the concept for ErieNet involves the formation of a local development corporation that would actually operate the entity,” Swanekamp said. “The financial crisis related to COVID-19 has affected the bond market. It may be more difficult for us to acquire the capital to do this project.”
Legislative Minority Leader Joe Lorigo said any contractor decision will need to be made by county lawmakers and pondered if the county should continue with the proposal given the needs for responding to the pandemic.
“All I’ve heard is that we don’t have any money,” Lorigo said.
Swanekamp said it’s tough to determine when ErieNet will be created but said funding from the federal government could help the county in the creation of the project if there is money included in the next stimulus bill for local governments.
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