GLOVERSVILLE - Maintained roadways and adequate water and sewer service are obvious infrastructure needs that must be met for a region to thrive.
But in the information age, the ability to communicate and stay connected may be just as important to keep an area on the cutting edge.
This year Albany-based Tech Valley Communications is hoping to complete a $20 million expansion of its fiber optic network, bringing a major increase in fiber optic technology capabilities to Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and northeastern New York, including Fulton and Montgomery counties.
A.J. Robichaud of Tech Valley Communications splices a fiber Tuesday in Gloversville inside a Tech Valley vehicle.
The Leader-Herald/Amanda May Metzger
In those two counties alone the company is expected to invest about $5 million as it strings 20,000 to 30,000 fiber miles, as they are called in the industry.
The expansion can mean a number of things for the average bandwidth user in the two counties.
To start, the company was commissioned by three major cellular providers to increase the fiber optic capabilities going to cell towers and allow increased capacity for 4G networks.
This means smart-phone users with 4G needs will be able to use more of the technology and increased speed.
"This is the new infrastructure," said Chief Executive Officer and President of Tech Valley Communications Kevin O'Connor said. "Fiber - that's what is going to fuel [industry]. It's mission critical."
O'Connor declined to name the three cell phone companies, citing nondisclosure agreements.
"The order from the cell phone companies is really what accelerated it. It's how so many of us get our news and stay connected," O'Connor said. "All that takes bandwidth."
O'Connor was elected earlier this month as one of 12 members of the board of directors of Comptel, a trade group which represents the telecommunications industry in Washington.
The company is the only regionally-owned-and-headquartered fiber optic voice and data company, and it earned a perfect rating from the state Public Service Commission for the eighth year in a row.
The optical fibers are about the same diameter of a human hair. They're made of glass, much of which is still produced in Corning. The fibers permit transmissions over long distances and with more bandwidth than metal - such as copper - wires.
Fiber optics is also the technology behind many bundled cable television, high-speed Internet and telephone services options for consumers.
Tech Valley has its own fiber optic communications product called FirstLight, a fiber-to-premise service available to businesses.
Fiber optic technology boasts more bandwidth, which translates to higher speed than copper, coax, or wireless networks, according to the company's website, www.techvalleycom.com.
While the company doesn't currently offer the service for residential customers, it does sell infrastructure use to other companies, which could allow other cable, phone and Internet providers to offer fiber optic services.
In recent years Verizon came out with FiOS, which bundled cable television, high-speed internet and phone services all through fiber-optic line.
Verizon FiOS is not available in either county, and only recently became available in limited parts of the Capital Region. Frontier Communications also offers a fiber optic powered bundle, but it is not available in Fulton County.
"Our goal is to try to bring high-speed communications not only to bigger cities, but smaller cities in our region as well," O'Connor said.
Having a high-speed Internet connection is quickly becoming a necessity, not a luxury, O'Connor said, as several companies require potential employees to apply for jobs online.
"In 2012, if people don't have high-speed access, if they have a dial up connection it just doesn't work anymore. The demand for bandwidth will keep growing," O'Connor said. "We're trying to build our fiber network as far and wide as we can."
On Tuesday, A.J. Robichaud, of Tech Valley Communications, was in Gloversville to demonstrate the process for splicing fiber, a high-tech job done in the field.
One fiber, with the diameter of a strand of human hair, can support about 60 customers, Robichaud said.
He said it would take two copper wires about half the size of a pencil lead to match that.
According to "World Broadband Statistics, Q1 2011," a study by United Kingdom-based Point Topic, which produces data and research for broadband communications, the United States ranked 22nd worldwide in broadband penetration by population.
"The U.S. is a little bit behind on this," O'Connor said.
In addition to increased connectivity, the Tech Valley Communications is increasing its work force and looking to contract with other local companies to do some of the work.
"We kind of stimulate the economy, too, by contracting work out to other local companies," O'Connor said.
This year, the company is looking at adding 40 new jobs.
He said the company is on target to increase its workforce from 60 to 100 by the end of this year.
Once the new infrastructure is complete, the three cell phone companies will "turn it right up immediately," O'Connor said.