SALAMANCA — A $395,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission is expected to increase broadband options for potentially thousands of businesses and residents in parts of Cattaraugus, Allegany and Chautauqua counties.

In addition, partnerships with Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties and private providers will double the investment to $790,000, according to Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Executive Director Richard Zink.

The targets of the broadband expansion are census blocks in the three counties represented by satellite provider HughesNet. Southern Tier Wireless and DF Communications are the providers.

“It’s important to get as much high-speed internet as we can,” Zink said. “We aren’t going into Armstrong or Spectrum territory.”

Southern Tier Wireless and DF Communications will be buying eight new antennas that can go through trees better than the existing WiMax antennas. “We’ll be able to serve a lot more houses this way,” Zink explained. New cable will also be purchased.

WiMax is a microwave-based system that relies on a line-of-sight between the tower antenna and the receiver.

The initial focus of the program through the ARC grant targets 206 businesses, 121 farms and 10 tourism destinations, Zink said.

There are 3,300 homes and businesses on company waiting lists which are in the viewshed, but have obstructions that limit the reach of high-speed internet.

Currently, the two companies have about 1,000 internet customers in the three counties.

“It’s a pretty wide service area,” Zink said. It expends from the central and northwest portions of Allegany County, to the northeast and northwest corners of Cattaraugus County, and northern Chautauqua County.

An expansion in the southeastern corner of Chautauqua County should also serve the Randolph, South Valley and Conewango areas, he said.

“We would not have received the award if Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties had not agreed to partner with us,” Zink said. “It’s a welcome effort.” Chautauqua County will invest about $150,000, while Cattaraugus County will provide $70,000.

This new equipment will enable delivery of effective capacity and cost competitive Wi-Fi broadband service in underserved and unserved areas of eight rural communities in the three counties.

The ARC statement said, “The counties have been adversely affected by the closure of coal-fired power plants and the decline in freight rail volume due to reduced coal traffic.”

The installation of new antennas on eight existing cell towers and the construction of a new tower will provide high-speed, low latency coverage to over 1,100 locations.

Zink said he expects engineering work would take place over the winter and installation of equipment to begin in the spring.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)