Editorial — Reducing Barriers: State Legislature Waives Fiber Optic Fees for Internet Companies | Opinion

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When it comes to high-speed internet in the GLOW region, supply is struggling to keep up with demand.

Internet service providers have attempted to extend broadband technology throughout the region. But they encountered obstacles that prevented them from achieving their goals.

One of the problems was the fees the state charged these companies. Companies had to pay a tax for every foot of fiber optic cable they create along state-controlled highways. Curiously, these charges were not assessed for telephone, sewer, or water lines.

Lawmakers incorporated this into the 2019-2020 state budget; it ran into serious opposition. On this page, we have repeatedly argued that the tax interferes with the state’s plan to expand high-speed internet and that it should be repealed immediately.

In her budget proposal this year, Governor Kathleen C. Hochul called for the removal of fees for state-funded work. Although this approach would help to some extent, it was still not enough. The tax was to be abolished in its entirety.

Fortunately, Albany lawmakers finally saw the light. As part of the 2022-2023 state budget, they completely repealed the tax. This will help in the effort to ensure that every region of the state has access to broadband internet.

“We appreciate the efforts of state legislators working with the staff of the New York State Counties Association to advocate on behalf of counties for the repeal of these unnecessary fees and costs on broadband projects,” said Livingston County Administrator Ian Coyle.

Livingston County is working with Empire Access on a USDA ReConnect grant that will extend broadband infrastructure to more than 1,000 unserved and underserved addresses in the county.

“Removing this hefty tax,” Coyle said, “will save county ratepayers about $50,000 a year.”

The state Department of Transportation began charging fees to fiber optic line installers who build lines in a state-controlled freeway right-of-way after the 2019-20 state budget contained a language that enacted a right-of-way tax or use and occupancy fee. The DOT had required installers to enter paid annual permits to charge companies per foot, per cable, for the fiber optic lines they own.

The Development Authority of the North Country, for example, has to pay about $2,000 per mile of fiber it installs. The fee is $1.6 million for the 830 miles of fiber DANC owns along the state’s DOT routes. This represents a quarter of the DANC fiber network’s projected annual revenue, according to an October 14, 2021, article in the Watertown Daily Times.

DANC officials said the fee is essentially a tax on state grants because the DANC network was largely built using state grants.

Now that fees have been repealed, internet service providers must step up measures to develop high-speed internet.

The state has laid out an ambitious plan for more people, especially those in rural areas, to enjoy high-speed internet access. Companies have a mandate to continue this work, and now they no longer have to worry about the excessive costs imposed on them by this tax. The state also instituted new grant programs that call for a total investment for broadband initiatives of $1.445 billion, including $1.145 billion in federal funds.

The novel coronavirus pandemic that began two years ago has led to even greater internet addiction. The need to adhere to security protocols has led to increased use of these services. People shopped online; their children received classroom instruction via the Internet; and individuals used telehealth services.

We applaud everyone who worked to get this tax repealed. It shows that grassroots activism is alive and well, a fact that offers us all a much brighter future.

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