FREEDOM — The wait while data uploads on a slow satellite link is excruciating to those still waiting on access to high-speed Internet.
Ask Betty Nichols, who with her husband Doug and their family, run Nichols Farm on Route 243, straddling the Freedom-Farmersville town line in northeast Cattaraugus County.
Last year, the Nicholses installed a 24-cow DeLavale milking parlor for their more than 500-cow dairy herd. The system produces a lot of information about each cow milked that is uploaded to the Internet.
Nichols, who oversees the computer systems on the cows as well as the 1,200 acres of farm fields they own or rent, isn’t waiting as much anymore.
Three weeks ago, they were among the first residents in Cattaraugus County to get a new Internet service that is microwave-based.
Southern Tier Wireless of Rushford, which has been working with the Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Board to develop broadband systems in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, began signing up homes and businesses in mid-April. The company has more than 500 customers in the Rushford area, and serves other Allegany County communities and beyond.
The family had expressed interest in the system a few years ago but hadn’t heard much about it, Nichols said. Through word of mouth, they did hear about it and couldn’t wait to sign up, she said.
“It makes my life easier,” she said, smiling from behind her desk in the farm office.
The program monitoring the herd used to take much longer to upload.
“Without this, you don’t know what the cows are doing,” she said. “With the satellite, if it rained the Internet didn’t work. We don’t have to wait anymore.”
Nichols, a grandmother of two, regularly babysits her daughter Tiffany Lambert’s two children. Lambert is the farm’s herdsman, the third generation to farm in the area.
The Internet’s a necessity for the farm, Nichols said. Through the Western New York Crop Association, they have programs to manage their planting and spreading manure via computer. The program can signal when too much seed is being planted for the field conditions.
With new GPS technology, she can watch on the computer as her husband plants a field. With moisture sensors across their fields, she can tell exactly how much rain fell on each field the day before. This can help determine where to cut hay or plow on a given day without having to take equipment to the field.
Richard Zink, executive director of Southern Tier West, joined Crystal Abers, director of the Cattaraugus County Department of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism, to inspect the farm’s newly installed Air-MAX internet system which connects via microwave to a tower in Centerville, just over the Allegany County line. It has a line-of-sight range of about 7 miles.
“The frustration of when things don’t go fast enough” is felt by thousands of rural families and businesses who live outside cable-serviced areas, Zink said.
Wayne Hawley, CEO of Southern Tier Wireless, said that with repeaters set up in some of the area valleys, a good portion of residents in Farmersville, Farmersville Station, Elton and Centerville will be able to get the Air-MAX system. It requires line-of-sight from the tower to the antennae.
“We’ll build some sub-towers to provide better service in some valleys,” Hawley said. “It’s like a real big Wi-Fi.”
For several years, Southern Tier West has been applying for grants and making partnerships with Internet providers like Southern Tier Wireless and Dunkirk-Fredonia Telephone Co., which is beginning to offer similar services in the northwest area of Cattaraugus County.
Southern Tier Wireless will likely be involved in providing high-speed internet to serve the Olean, Allegany, Portville and Hinsdale areas.
Cattaraugus County has also contributed to the effort to bring broadband services to rural areas. The three-county ION fiber-optic cable that passes through Little Valley will provide the basis for additional services to the center of the county, including Little Valley, Mansfield and Otto.
“We’re looking for more funding sources,” Abers said. “We expect things to pick up.”
Officials have tried to utilize space in existing towers to reduce start-up costs, Abers noted.
Zink hopes that within five years most areas of Cattaraugus County will have high-speed access. Some areas without line-of-sight access will still not be able to receive it unless a repeater tower is built.
Dunkirk-Fredonia Telephone has tested the Perrysburg tower and is signing up customers in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, according to Zink.
“A small business like the Nichols Farm that needs to be rural aren’t going to move to a city or village to get better Internet service,” Zink said. “Having service out here will help them stay competitive and viable for the fourth generation.”
Internet packages range from $45 to $75 a month.
In the three weeks since the new Internet service started, Lambert has begun using a device called a MooCall, which attaches to a pregnant cow’s tail to signal when she is about to give birth. It tells the computer to dial her cellphone with the news. That way, Lambert can get to the cow in the field and bring it back to a clean birthing stall in the barn.
It’s important to have the calves born in a clean environment, according to Lambert.
“It’s just healthier for them,” she said.
Soon to be daughter-in-law Emily Minor has also been instructed in the various computer programs the Nichols use to monitor the herd and the land.
What’s the first thing she did after the new Internet hookup was active?
“Watched a YouTube video,” she replied. It was farm-related.
Watching a video with the satellite often involved waiting, she said. Not anymore.