It would be difficult to identify an elected representative who does not support the efforts to expand the high-speed Internet.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, DN.Y., spoke on the subject in Lewis County last week. He met with community leaders and business representatives to highlight federal government funding to ensure everyone has access to broadband internet services.
“The Bottom Line: The pandemic has highlighted certain fault lines in our society and one of them is the lack of broadband,” he said, according to a story published Aug. 18 in the Watertown Daily Times. “We learned with the pandemic that the internet is like the phone, just like electricity. The internet is a necessity, not a luxury. “
Schumer is right. The novel coronavirus pandemic has shown how important a fast internet is for everyone.
Students used it for teaching while their schools were closed. Visiting health professionals online became essential for patients. Employees connected with colleagues in virtual environments so that they could stay at home and possibly avoid infection.
At Tug Hill Vineyards in the city of Lowville, Schumer discussed sources of federal funding for broadband expansion. He referred to the $ 1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. He also mentioned the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Nearly 12% of the $ 550 billion new spending approved in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is dedicated to improving access to high-speed Internet. With the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, income was available to groups such as the Northern Border Regional Commission for broadband expansion. And the American rescue plan offered billions of dollars to continue those efforts.
It’s great that elected officials are realizing the need to ensure that as many households as possible are connected to the high-speed internet. A substantial investment is required to achieve this goal and we commend those who work to achieve it.
But that’s only half the battle. Other major obstacles are ensuring that contractors can get the work done and easing the legal burdens at various levels of government.
Through the New NY Broadband Program, founded in 2015, the then Gov. Andrew Cuomo said more than 99 percent of the state’s residents would have access to high-speed internet. The initiative started 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 governor’s office press release.
However, these projects have been hampered by some significant problems. One of these was the failure of some vendors to complete the work they had promised.
In 2019, Mohawk Networks announced it was unable to complete the Lewis County project. The company, owned by Tewathahonni Corp. des Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, received a $ 6.4 million project grant in March 2017 for the $ 7.9 million broadband project that will span Lewis County and some locations in Jefferson, St. Includes Lawrence and Oneida Counties.
Frontier Communications Inc. received $ 6.2 million for providing broadband internet in Lewis County in July 2019. However, last year she filed for bankruptcy protection. Although it emerged from bankruptcy this year, that process has delayed its work.
Earlier this year, government officials tossed a curve ball in efforts to expand broadband Internet access. As part of the 2021-22 state budget approved in April and signed in April, lawmakers included a provision requiring internet service providers to offer services to eligible low-income families for $ 15 a month. This applies to companies with at least 20,000 subscribers.
In addition, last year the state Department of Transportation began charging fiber optic line installers building lines in a state-controlled motorway access road after the 2019-2020 state budget included a language that enacted a right of way tax or use and occupancy fee. The DOT requires installers to enter annual billing permits to bill companies per foot per cable for their own fiber optic lines. It doesn’t apply to telephone, water or sewer pipes, ”a story published July 4, 2020 by the Watertown Daily Times said.
This fee affects disproportionately rural areas like north New York as it is charged per foot. For geographically dense areas, the total costs are lower and the effort per user is significantly lower, so that providers can try to pass the tax on in the form of higher fees. But in rural areas, where there are fewer users who are much farther apart, the charges turn out to be excessive.
Taken together, these two mandates will thwart broadband expansion in regions with fewer inhabitants. Democratic lawmakers, who dominate the state legislature, said they consulted with major internet service providers when they worked out the requirement to offer service to low-income families for $ 15 a month. However, smaller companies were excluded from these discussions and the details of the program reflect this lack of input; it doesn’t really take into account the needs of sparsely populated areas.
We appreciate the focus on proof of income to improve access to high-speed internet. But if these other issues are not addressed, advances in this regard will not continue. Officials need to review the problems that are hindering the performance of this work and resolve them as soon as possible.
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