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Forum: Broadband, cell service are key

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    Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-107, at the Columbia County Municipal Executive Forum on Thursday.
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    Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-107, leading the Columbia County Municipal Executive Forum on Thursday.
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    Columbia County mayors and town supervisors with Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-107, at Thursday’s forum. Pictured, left to right, are Chatham Town Supervisor Maria Lull, Ashby, Kinderhook Town Supervisor Pat Grattan, Kinderhook Mayor Jim Dunham, Valatie Mayor Diane Argyle, Constituent Liaison Sally Hogan and New Lebanon Town Supervisor Colleen Teal.
March 14, 2019 05:17 pm

VALATIE — Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-107, met with Columbia County mayors and town supervisors to gather feedback and share proposed legislation in Albany.

The assemblyman led the Columbia County Municipal Executive Forum on Thursday at the Martin H. Glynn Municipal Building in Valatie and discussed a variety of issues including infrastructure, state mandates and economic development.

“By bringing people together like this, you can hear the commonality of the problems we are facing, but also the solutions,” Ashby said to open the forum.

Valatie Mayor Diane Argyle, New Lebanon Town Supervisor Colleen Teal, Chatham Town Supervisor Maria Lull, Kinderhook Mayor Jim Dunham and Kinderhook Town Supervisor Pat Grattan attended the forum.

The first topic addressed was the area’s infrastructure and increasing broadband access in communities lacking high-speed internet access.

“We have made progress in the northern part of the district,” Ashby said. “They have seen improvement, but also in Columbia County as well. Portions of it seem to be moving along steadily.”

Several parts of the county do not have access to high-speed internet, Ashby said, adding he is trying to pinpoint specific areas to make a push for more broadband.

“If your community is still lacking, please let me know,” Ashby said to the officials. “I will be drafting a letter in the next week to continue to push for this. There are still funds leftover from previous allocations.”

Chatham Town Supervisor Maria Lull spoke about the importance of broadband access in today’s economy.

“High-speed internet, fiber optics, broadband is essential to the economy of upstate New York,” Lull said, adding dealing with providers and their requirements for determining which areas will be wired for high-speed internet is frustrating.

“For us as a community, there are some towns and villages that are very well taken care of,” Lull said. “But there are many others that need it because the e-economy is going to be home-occupation businesses — we all know that.”

Service providers appear to be confused about which areas are wired, others that aren’t, New Lebanon Town Supervisor Colleen Teal said.

“The providers — especially in northern Columbia County — are in a little over their heads and they are not even able to define where is being served and where isn’t,” Teal said. “Not only are they behind a little in the timeline, but there seems to be a pretty significant breakdown in this whole thing, from a business perspective.”

By the time providers figure it out, the state’s available broadband funding could dry up, she added.

“My biggest concern is that by the time we figure out where those holes [in service] are, the issue is going to be at the tail end — there won’t be any funding left,” Teal said.

Ashby agreed that ensuring countywide broadband access has been a challenge.

“People are being left behind,” Ashby said.

Valatie Mayor Diane Argyle raised the issue of cell phone service and the fact that some communities — including portions of Main Street in Valatie — do not have cell phone access.

“Cell service really stinks in this area,” Argyle said.

Kinderhook Town Councilwoman Sally Hogan, Ashby’s constituent liaison, said she has reached out to Verizon Wireless about the issue and the company is looking to purchase a building to install a cell service tower to improve access.

Work on the issue is ongoing, Hogan said.

Other issues raised at the forum included state mandates, economic development, local emergency services and the legalization of recreational marijuana.