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Syracuse proposes plan for affordable internet service

Cables along a pole.
Scott Willis
The three thicker, lower lines on this utility pole are fiber optic cables.

The City of Syracuse appears poised to partner with a Finger Lakes-area company to provide affordable high-speed internet service to low-income Syracuse residents.

The city is proposing a $3.5 million agreement with CBN Geneva to install the broadband network in the 10 census tracts facing the largest digital divide. The money would come from the city’s pot of pandemic relief funds.

They project will create more opportunities than the other major providers like Spectrum or Verizon, said Jennifer Tifft, director of strategic initiatives for Syracuse.

“We have more demand than I think exists today. For the service providers, we just don't have enough options to meet the needs that exist in the community. And so this is about creating options, affordable options,” Tifft said at a Common Council committee meeting Wednesday.

The service would be available to about 2,500 homes as part of a pilot program for a fixed rate of $39.99 per month. But some residents might even qualify for a federal rebate that chops $30 or more off that cost. They save money by using the existing fiber network as much as possible, according to Chief Financial Officer James Orioli.

“The installation is really going to individual residents, getting to 2,500 homes and installing the receivers. These transmitters are transmitting signal, and the receivers pick that up,” Orioli said.

The company pays fees to use the existing network, Orioli said.

But then there’s the challenge of getting the word out—digital marketing and social media are of no use to reach people who aren’t connected, he said.

“This is something that we have to have a grassroots approach—that‘s having community action centers, that's having actual sign-up locations,” he said.

Community members could hear about the opportunity at familiar places in the neighborhood, Oriole said.

“Whether it be libraries, whether it be schools, or whether it be grocery stores where we can have individuals sign up for a service right then and there,” he said.

Local residents can also earn jobs at customer service centers that will help spread the word, Orioli said.

Councilors could vote to approve the affordable broadband network plan at their Monday meeting.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at