Empire Access continues to expand fiber reach

James Post jpost@the-leader.com

Local telecommunications company Empire Access envisions a service area for its fiber optic Internet, TV and phone offerings that extends from Batavia to Sayre, Pa.

They recently put together a deal to bring their low-cost, high-speed service to the Town of Big Flats early in 2015, and they have other rollouts planned for the coming year. They’ll be finishing up installation in several areas in the region over the next couple of months.

“We’re finishing Arkport and Canisteo (in December), Hornell (and Batavia) in January,” said Empire Senior Vice President Jim Baase. They’re also continuing rollouts in the Village of Naples and in Athens, Pa.

Baase said, in the beginning at least, it’s the density of potential customers that will drive decisions about where to go next.

“You start in the villages and you work your way out,” he said. “In Hammondsport, we started in the village and now we’re working out into the Town of Urbana.”

In the nearby area, they also now offer service in the Village of Bath and in Watkins Glen.

They’ve certainly made progress over the last year. Baase said they’ve built out more than 200 miles of fiber in 2014.

But they’ve got bigger goals.

“We feel our home territory will run from Sayre, Pa., to Batavia,” Baase said. “That’s over a number of years.”

He said the goal is a strong presence within a reasonably-sized territory.

“These are all markets that are close by,” he said. “We want to stay close to where our employees are.”

The company currently has 82 employees. They’ve added 17 over the course of 2014. They expect that to continue to grow in order to serve a larger area.

In July, Baase told The (Corning) Leader they had their eye on the Village of Addison. He said those plans have gone by the wayside. After consideration, Baase said they “don’t want to compete with (current local provider) Armstrong.”

As for their future plans, he said, “We’ve got a few more that we’re planning for. It’s going to depend on how successful we are with the things we’re doing now.”

When in comes to cities in the area like Corning and Elmira, he said there are more complex considerations there.

So far, they’ve largely come into smaller communities to offer service to customers who didn’t have it available before.

“We’ve chosen markets where there’s no fiber overbuilder like ourselves,” he said. Still, he acknowledged they’ve considered it.

“Corning and Elmira certainly are markets that would be very appealing to us,” Baase said. “It wouldn’t surprise me to do something sooner rather than later.”