Nestled between Ithaca and Cortland, the Town of Dryden is one of New York’s largest townships at 94 square miles and around 14,000 residents. Settled in 1797 as part of the New Military Tract, today Dryden is comprised mostly of specialty farms, horse ranches, businesses and residences.

Like many rural communities, Dryden was underserved when it came to high-speed broadband. Its citizens had been making do with slow and spotty internet—or sometimes no internet at all—forced to go libraries or coffee shops for more consistent connections. The lack of reliable connectivity was only exacerbated by the pandemic, when many people found themselves working, learning and receiving telemedicine at home. Dependability and availability weren’t the only concerns, though. Cost was an issue for some residents, too.

Recognizing that high-quality broadband is an essential utility much like water or electricity, Dryden town officials put in motion a municipal broadband project aimed at providing faster, affordable internet access to everyone in town. This type of locally owned municipal broadband system is one of the first of its kind in New York State, with fiber run past every residence and business in the township.

On the ‘HUNT’

Of the project, dubbed ‘Dryden Fiber,’ Dryden Town Supervisor Jason Leifer remarked, “We started our planning process not wondering if we were going to do this, but how.”

The ‘how’ was entrusted to professional consulting firm Hunt Engineers, Architects, Land Surveyors & Landscape Architect, DPC (HUNT). HUNT worked with the town to analyze the current landscape and needs of residents and businesses, and then developed a plan for construction, maintenance and ongoing operations of a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network. The firm also identified state and federal funding opportunities to help cover project costs so that fees can be kept reasonable for customers of the service.

When it came time to select a technology, HUNT opted for passive optical network (PON) because it utilizes fiber-optic cable to distribute signals from a head-end to homes and businesses via optical splitters.

According to Ryan Garrison, Principal/Director of Technology at HUNT, “PON is the best choice for advanced broadband services. It offers many advantages over other technologies, providing greater bandwidth and faster speeds over longer distances with better reliability and flexibility.” He added, “And there’s no need for electronics on telephone poles or building exteriors.”

As for the vendor who would supply the network infrastructure, Dryden and HUNT picked Ciena.

Ciena solutions supporting Town of Dryden

For the new network, Dryden and HUNT chose Ciena’s Universal Aggregation (UA) solution, including the 5164 Router, pluggable XGS-PON uOLT, 3801 XGS-PON ONU and Manage, Control and Plan (MCP) domain controller. Ciena is also assisting with network deployment and operations training.

“Ciena’s UA solution is compact in size and temperature hardened, making it ideal for rural areas where both residential and business services are supported,” said Garrison. “The solution’s openness, flexibility and density make it possible for Dryden to support whatever services its subscribers will consume in the future—things like smart farming, smart cities and private 5G.”

Dryden’s Planning Director Ray Burger credits HUNT and Ciena for offering a viable and easy-to-understand business case. While he says the town’s facilities team is quite capable and has assisted in the network planning process, “In this case, we thought it was better to stay in our lane and let our project subcontractors do their thing. It’s really a nice marriage of our homegrown knowledge and their technical expertise.”

Closing the digital divide in Upstate New York

Slated to go live this year, Dryden Fiber, which will provide fast and reasonably priced internet service, will go a long way toward closing the digital divide and spurring economic growth for the town’s residents, businesses and educational institutions.

“Our community is a prime example of how affordable, dependable broadband can propel people into the future,” remarked Leifer. “Thanks to municipal broadband, the citizens of Dryden will be able to efficiently communicate, work, learn, shop, receive health care and enjoy online entertainment for years to come.”

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