ALBANY — Lawmakers are urging the state to audit broadband and high speed internet service providers as many homes and businesses remain unserved even as the state’s Broadband For All rollout deadlines loom or, in some cases, have rolled by.
Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, who represents parts of Columbia and Dutchess counties, sent a letter to state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli last week urging his office to evaluate broadband providers’ compliance with state agreements to provide high-speed internet access to communities statewide.
About $500 million from the state was set aside as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Broadband for All Initiative in 2015, with the promise to bring high-speed internet and broadband to unserved and underserved parts of the state.
Barrett is calling for transparency among providers who received state grants so New York residents know if those companies are following through on their agreements.
Although strides have been made, some rural areas of towns in Columbia County remain unserved or underserved, town supervisors say.
Barrett said she continues to receive calls regularly from residents, businesses and local officials in her district who don’t have access to high-speed broadband.
“Deadlines for the governor’s Broadband for All initiative have passed, and yet, too many homes in the area are still without adequate service,” Barrett said in a statement. “I’m asking Comptroller DiNapoli to take a look at how broadband providers across the state are working to find a solution and bring all New York households into the 21st century.”
Ancram Supervisor Arthur Bassin said many homes and businesses in his town remain without promised broadband.
“Last year, Gov. Cuomo was here and basically said we are going to have 100 percent coverage by the end of 2020,” Bassin said. “Right now, for Ancram, it’s looking like we’ll be at 75 percent by the end of the rollout.”
Residents report they are receiving broadband service but not at a rate that town officials expected. More funding might be necessary to complete the program, Bassin said.
“The County Broadband Committee still tracks this overall progress, however fragmented, and attempts to combine it with the promised Spectrum expansion as Spectrum was never a part of the BPO [Broadband Program Office] program,” said Gallatin Supervisor John Reilly, who chairs the Columbia County Broadband Committee. “The result is a county where we are actually ahead in many areas, behind in a few and still mainly in the dark on Spectrum’s county-specific expansion plans, which cover large swaths of the county.”
A lack of broadband or internet service in rural areas can create barriers for residents, including when it comes to completing the upcoming 2020 Census. The federal government has become increasing reliant on online forms and the Census data is used to help determine a wide range of decisions, including allocation of funding, legislative redistricting and congressional representation, according to Barrett’s office.
“New York State will be at a severe disadvantage come next year if thousands of people can’t get online to fill out Census forms,” Barrett said. “We must act now to hold broadband providers accountable, identify the gaps in service across the state and show New Yorkers that we’re doing everything we can to bring them this essential service.”
Reilly predicted there will be small holes in the broadband fabric in Gallatin due to the census data issue, but he said the Broadband Program Office is aware.
“This ongoing Spectrum issue, combined with the FCC changes in Census data mapping from a “if one house served-all must be assumed to be served” approach to a “who is actually getting service” approach, constitute the holes in the County mapping at present,” Reilly said. “This has prompted calls for both greater ‘phase four’ funding for Columbia County and for transparency as to Spectrum’s plans for real expansion hook ups beyond ‘legacy’ customer upgrades.”
The Broadband For All program was divided into three phases and later added funding through two other FCC agreements for nearly $225 million.
After four years of anticipation, it is surprising to see the new lines strung, trucks going up and down blocks and to open an internet browser and not have to get coffee while it loads, Reilly said.
“We have come a long way, and the state program, I feel, has constructed a historic government-private company partnership to build broadband decades earlier than it was economically feasible to do so,” Reilly said. “We need a final push to close gaps and get a true picture of Spectrum’s expansion if these are the keys to achieving the governor’s initial goal of 100% high speed coverage in Columbia County in the next year or so.”
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