What better place to brag about a high-tech project than at Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack’s racino?

While blinking gaming machines beckoned —  how about Penny Quick Pay, Kingdom of Pharaohs or Hot Shot? — Ontario County officials got down to business Friday in a quieter room of the racino at Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack.

The occasion: a gathering of InterCounty Association of Western New York. The coalition of 19 counties, including Ontario, Wayne, Yates and Monroe, works to influence state government to benefit counties. 

And share ideas.

The big idea Friday: Ontario County’s $7.5 million plan to string 180 miles of fiber-optic cable around the county.

Workers are scheduled to break ground on the first 40 miles on the Monday after Thanksgiving, said county Chief Information Officer Ed Hemminger. While Victor, Canandaigua, and Geneva will be the first to benefit from what officials call the Ring, eventually the system will connect all regions of the county to affordable, high-speed Internet access. The entire system should be up and running by the end of 2009.

Installation won’t disrupt traffic or other major activities, as the fiber will be strung along existing telephone poles. 

“The goal is creating, building, broadband capacity in our county,” county Administrator Geoff Astles told the room full of county leaders.

Hemminger, a member of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s task force for broadband initiatives, said the method Ontario County is using to finance, build, and operate the system is a first in the nation. The public-private partnership “is the only model like it in the entire country,” he said.

Overseeing the implementation is Finger Lakes Regional Telecommunications Development Corp., a board of county and business leaders. The plan calls for telecommunications companies and related businesses to contract with the nonprofit corporation to lease the fiber and provide services to customers. According to the plan, the Ring will pay for itself once it is up and running.

Construction of the Ring is being covered largely through payments from Empire State Pipeline, a company building a natural-gas pipeline through Ontario and several other counties. Empire is paying the cost of a $5 million bond used to finance building the Ring. The remaining $2.5 million came from Ontario County, in the form of a loan and a prepayment for county’s own use of the Ring.

Wayne County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Hoffman was among the attendees who is closely following Ontario County’s fiberoptic project. Hoffman, supervisor for the town of Williamson, said he is bringing the idea back to his county Board of Supervisors.

He wants to explore whether the model might work well in Wayne County. “I took good notes,” he said.

Julie Sherwood can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 263, or at jsherwood@mpnewspapers.com.