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Businesses want better high-speed wireless, survey says

Business leaders in Upstate New York want improved high-speed wireless internet, and believe fast wireless internet connections are an essential part of economic development and innovation in the state, according to an AT&T survey conducted by Global Strategy Group.

The survey comes as telecom companies push New York state for unified regulations in rolling out small cell infrastructure, which is now controlled by individual municipalities. Small cell technology is usually installed on telephone and light poles in small boxes to boost coverage in smaller, densely populated areas, filling in between cell towers. They help to handle the ever increasing volumes of web traffic, improving connectivity and speed. Data usage has increased 250,000 percent since 2007, according to AT&T.

AT&T's survey shows that, once respondents were given descriptions and examples of how small cell infrastructure development could affect different sectors of the economy, upstate decision makers overwhelmingly supported the technology's expansion.

The majority of respondents said high-speed wireless internet service is "essential" to medical centers, health care facilities, higher education centers, businesses, business owners, students and residents in upstate New York. The majority of respondents said government involvement with internet and cellphone providers to improve high-speed internet would have a "very" positive impact on the state's technology and health sectors.

With no overarching regulations for the deployment of small cell infrastructure, each community makes its own rules and has its own planning requirements.

"That's challenging for us," said Marissa Shorenstein, president, Northeast Region, AT&T.

Telecom companies have said that dealing with individual municipalities to install small cells complicates and slows down the technology's expansion. Each town or city can name its own installation rates, too. Buffalo, for example, has set a usage fee of $2,000 per pole per year, which Verizon has said would likely prevent Verizon Wireless from expanding effectively in Buffalo.

Telecom companies have said they would prefer to pay far less than that, or use the poles for free, pointing out that costs are passed on to consumers and that some communities don't charge pole fees in order to promote small cell deployment.

But Buffalo Council Members have said pole fees are part of the cost of doing business, and critics have said taking wireless infrastructure control away from local communities takes away their ability to negotiate good deals for residents and to allow public input on where such infrastructure might appear and how it might look.

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