The Information Superhighway’s rural route
Norwich, N.Y., is a small, rural, picturesque city about midway between New York City and Buffalo. To get there, you can either drive, fly into the Norwich airport or fly into either Binghamton or Syracuse and drive. Or you can take the Information Superhighway.
Officials from Norwich, population 7,613, have announced that they have committed $150,000 toward a project that they hope will make Internet access for community residents, business, and educational institutions as commonplace as cable television in the near future.
Additionally, with an eye toward the future, they are setting aside another $50,000 in reserve to fund any technological advances that may be useful to that project.
Norwich plans to use a community landmark that overlooks two parks in the center of the city to establish The Internet Center.
The center is expected to result in creation of several hundred new jobs and increase the educational and training levels of residents throughout the area and region. Three new jobs and several temporary positions have been created as the project gets underway.
The city also expects to generate thousands of dollars in new municipal revenues from sales tax and an innovative project fee arrangement.
Keith Obrosky of Norwich and Kenneth Harrington from nearby Greene, have formed a partnership to expedite the city’s project. Their new Chenango Net Services operates the system for the city from the former Norwich Club property at 18 East Main Street, a building the city acquired this past year with federal community development funds as part of a comprehensive downtown revitalization effort. One employer, Business Publications, a print/advertising designer, has joined Chenango Net Services in the building, providing two more jobs.
The historic structure, in addition to housing the Internet node and offices, will be available for rental to Internet-related businesses wanting to establish a presence on Norwich’s information pipeline to the world.
City and Chenango Net Services officials hope the center will spur other businesses to look at the many vacant second and third floors in the downtown business district.
Mayor Joseph Biviano calls the innovative arrangement developed for the project a true example of a public/private partnership.
As part of the project, the city has provided federal community development funds for purchase of equipment and operation of the system, which Chenango Net Services will operate as a business.
Proceeds from the venture will be used to pay back the city for its investment, with excess revenues being divided between Norwich and the provider. The city also expects to receive several thousand dollars in additional sales tax revenues annually as a result of new and increased sales of Internet and computer-related products and services.
Norwich’s involvement in the project will help ensure competitive rates for users, with at least a 25 percent additional discount being provided for residents and businesses.
Discounts will also be available within a state Economic Development Zone that includes parts of two neighboring towns.
By establishing a local service, the 20,000 residents of the Norwich toll-free telephone calling area now receive Internet services without paying for long-distance telephone charges to Binghamton or Syracuse. Those long distance charges were adding more than 10 an hour to service costs, making extensive Internet use financially prohibitive in rural communities. And these costs place concentrated Internet use out of reach for many schools and businesses.
Municipal officials and the provider note the agreement also will guarantee benefits to community residents in the future. Competitive rates and equal access must be provided to all local users, thereby maintaining essential, low-cost services for years to come.
“We want this service to be available to all local users at the most economical rates possible,” says Biviano, pointing out that one of the primary differences between this and other Internet providers is that it is geared for community development.
“Other communities have systems that have been developed by residents for the residents, systems that have been developed by educational institutions to serve education and private vendors who are primarily interested in sale of services,” Biviano says. “Our goal has been to build a community-wide system that will provide low-cost services to residents, businesses, educational institutions and other organizations that can use the Internet to create jobs, expand educational and training opportunities, enhance economic development activities and help make Norwich a highly visible Information Superhighway pipeline.”
In addition to private use, the agreement calls for two yet-to-be determined public Internet access points to be made available within the community to enable residents who do not own computers to obtain basic services without cost.
The one-step link the city’s system will provide to the World Wide Web is another aspect of the project. MCI Telecommunications and Citizens Telecom lines will be used to access the Web, rather than using other Internet traffic handlers that can create traffic bottlenecks and slow access times.
“We expect the project to result in a much greater saturation of users in Chenango County than the percentage of Internet users being experienced in other parts of the country”, Biviano says. “We aren’t simply selling a service. We are highlighting the importance of area consumers becoming knowledgeable about the worldwide electronics revolution and how they can use Internet tools to increase business, raise educational levels, and find out more about the community and the world.”
Various educational institutions, businesses and individuals have been expressing interest in the project since the city received project proposals in early 1995.
To tap that interest, the city has established a five-member Internet advisory committee, comprised of representatives from city government, the school district and the Norwich library system to make recommendations about various services and their delivery.
A Norwich Marketplace that will be featured and easily accessible every time area users log on is being developed on the World Wide Web. This page will be developed further in cooperation with community and educational groups.
Local businesses and organizations will be listed under the Norwich Marketplace, along with information about their products.
Calendars of events and other promotional information about the Greater Norwich area also will be provided.
Additionally, a number of basic business services will be available without charge as a result of the city’s contribution to the project. Plans are underway to encourage community groups to help expand the Norwich Marketplace concept.
Businesses and other community organizations who are interested in developing an even greater presence on the Internet will be able to do so at their own cost and be able to connect into the Norwich Marketplace.
Development of home pages, a graphical presentation on the Internet, along with subsidiary services, are expected to spawn new businesses and jobs in the area.
Residents with other on-line services, such as America OnLine and Compuserve, will be able to access them through the local node without paying existing telephone toll charges.
“This is an exciting project that puts Norwich in the forefront of today’s communications technology,” Biviano says. “This is the first time, to the best of our knowledge, that a community of our size has been involved in such a broad-based project.
“The benefits are vast, and many still are unknown as the technology expands on a daily basis. “But we are out in front from a local government, economic development, and educational perspective and want to retain this standing in the years ahead.”
* Project overview. The city is using $150,000 in Urban Development Action Grant loan repayment month to create the system as a community-service, public-benefit project. Another $50,000 has been set aside to finance future technologies.
* Cost of the service. A monthly fee of $19.95 provides unlimited access. There will be discounts for multiple-moth service. Home Page placement will cost $35, along with a monthly fee of $5 for up to five megabytes of memory storage on the system server. Users within the city and the Greater Norwich Economic Development Zone will get a 25 percent discount off these basic rates.
* System development. MCI Telecommunications and Citizens Telecom will provide the link the World Wide Web. The system will have broad capacity lines for system connection.
* Physical facilities. The Internet node and officers will be housed in the former Norwich Club property at 18 East Main Street, an historic landmark that was acquired, along with extensive parking and the neighboring Elks Lodge, by the city to aid in downtown revitalization efforts.
* Advantages to residents. The system is expected to aid in creation of jobs, allow persons living in a rural area to connect with high-tech businesses, enhance the educational levels of schoolchildren and adults, increase training opportunities for unemployed and displaced worker, acquaint for consumers with products, services and events available locally, increase business opportunities and provide entertainment for a wide range of community citizens.
* Internet location. The Internet address for the projects is http://norwich.net
Casey Jones is the principal of Business/government Services, Norwich, a municipal management consulting firm.