It would be difficult to identify an elected official who would not support efforts to develop high-speed Internet.
US Senator Charles Schumer, DN.Y., spoke about this issue last week in Lewis County. He met with community leaders and business representatives to highlight the money coming from the federal government to make sure everyone has access to broadband Internet service.
“Bottom line: the pandemic has exposed some loopholes in our society, and one of them is the lack of broadband,” he said, according to an August 18 article in the Watertown Daily Times. “We learned, with the pandemic, that the Internet is like the telephone, like electricity. The Internet is a necessity, not a luxury.
Schumer is right. The novel coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated how vital high-speed internet is for everyone.
Students used it for classroom instruction while their schools remained closed. Online visits with healthcare professionals have become essential for patients. Employees connected with coworkers in virtual environments so they could stay at home and potentially avoid getting infected.
At Tug Hill Vineyards in the town of Lowville, Schumer discussed federal funding sources for broadband expansion. He referred to the $ 1 trillion infrastructure investment and employment law of 2021. He also mentioned the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and the U.S. Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Almost 12% of the $ 550 billion in new spending authorized in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been allocated to increasing access to high-speed Internet. The 2021 Consolidated Finance Law made revenue available to groups such as the Northern Frontier Regional Commission for Broadband Expansion. And the US bailout has offered billions of dollars to continue these efforts.
It’s great that elected officials recognize the need to ensure that as many homes as possible are connected to high-speed internet. Achieving this goal will require a considerable investment, and we commend those who are working to achieve it.
But that’s only half the battle. Other big obstacles are to ensure that contractors are able to carry out the necessary works and to lighten the statutory burdens of different levels of government.
Thanks to the New NY Broadband Program established in 2015, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo said more than 99% of the state’s residents would have access to high-speed internet. The initiative was launched with an investment of $ 500 million. Cuomo announced a third round of grants two years ago to provide “last mile funding to ensure high-speed Internet access for all New Yorkers.” according to a January 31, 2018 press release from the governor’s office.
But these projects were hampered by significant problems. One of them has been the failure of some suppliers to complete the work they have signed up to do.
In 2019, Mohawk Networks announced that it was unable to complete the project it undertook in Lewis County. Owned by Tewathahonni Corp. from the Mohawk tribe of Saint Regis, the company received a $ 6.4 million project grant for the $ 7.9 million broadband project to include all of Lewis County and some sites in the counties of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Oneida in March 2017.
Frontier Communications Inc. received $ 6.2 million in July 2019 to provide high-speed internet access in Lewis County. However, he filed for bankruptcy last year. As it emerged from bankruptcy this year, this process has delayed its work.
Earlier this year, state officials initiated a shift in efforts to expand broadband internet access. As part of the 2021-2022 state budget approved and enacted in April, lawmakers included a provision requiring ISPs to offer services to qualifying low-income families for $ 15 per month. This applies to companies with at least 20,000 subscribers.
In addition, last year, the state Department of Transportation “began charging fees to fiber-optic line installers who construct lines in a state-controlled highway right-of-way after the government budget. the 2019-2020 State contained wording which enacted a tax on the right of way or use and occupancy costs. DOT requires installers to enter annual paid permits to bill companies per foot, per cable, for the fiber optic lines they own. This does not apply to telephone, water or sewer lines ”, according to an article published on July 4, 2020 by the Watertown Daily Times.
These fees disproportionately affect rural areas such as upstate New York, as they are assessed by the foot. For geographically dense areas, the overall cost is lower and the spend per user is much less, meaning that providers can attempt to pass the tax on in terms of higher fees. But in rural areas where users are fewer and much more distant from each other, prices are excessive.
Together, these two mandates will thwart broadband expansion in areas with fewer people. Democratic lawmakers who dominate the state legislature have said they consulted with major internet providers when drafting the requirement to offer service to low-income families for $ 15 a month. But small businesses have been left out of those conversations, and the details of the program reflect this lack of input; it does not really take into account the needs of less populated areas.
We appreciate the emphasis on proof of income to increase high speed internet access. But if these other issues are not resolved, progress in this area will not continue. Officials must examine the problems that hamper efforts to complete this work and resolve them as soon as possible.