GREENPORT — A lack of sufficient broadband service is considered a critical issue in many rural communities in New York state. On Friday, upstate leaders will meet at Columbia-Greene Community College for a Rural Broadband Field Hearing with the Federal Communications Commission to discuss the issue and the importance of filling gaps in service.
Chaired by U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, the hearing will be held Friday at 1 p.m., in the Arts Center Theater at the college.
“Lack of internet access or reliable broadband affects every person in our community — from students lacking access to homework, to rural hospitals limited in their telemedicine capabilities, to small businesses who need broadband to connect to the global economy,” Delgado said in a statement.
Six local stakeholders will present testimony at the hearing. Members of the public are encouraged to attend, but will not have the opportunity to speak during the formal hearing. However, Delgado is expected to take questions from the audience following the conclusion of formal testimony.
Commissioner Geoffrey Starks from the FCC will hear the testimony.
Witnesses are expected to speak about the importance of broadband in rural communities and how the lack of it can affect economic development, education, health care, small business and more.
“The witnesses for Friday’s hearing will share this range of experiences and explain the need for accessible, affordable broadband in their communities,” Delgado noted.
The hearing, titled “Closing the Digital Divide: Connecting Rural Americans to Reliable Internet Service,” will feature two local witnesses who will represent the Twin Counties: Dr. Cliff Belden, chief medical officer at Columbia Memorial Health, and David Berman, co-chairman of the Ghent organization Columbia Connect.
Bill Van Slyke, spokesman for Columbia Memorial Health, said Belden planned to explain the importance of broadband to the delivery of health care in rural communities.
“Dr. Belden’s testimony will focus on why access to broadband is essential to delivering health care to our community,” Van Slyke said.
The impacts are far-reaching, Van Slyke said.
“The needs are profound, ranging from telemedicine resources that can be the only way some specialty care is delivered to rural areas like ours, to patients who rely on remote monitoring technology to recover safely in their homes, to physicians who need remote access to review diagnostic and treatment information,” Van Slyke said. “We need better broadband to meet all of these critically important needs.”
In addition to Belden and Berman, the four remaining witnesses to present testimony will include Tim Johnson, CEO of Otsego Electric Cooperative; Shannon Hayes, owner of Sap Bush Hollow Farm Store and Cafe in West Fulton; Jason Miller, general manager of Delhi Telephone Company; and Brian Dunn, superintendent of the Middleburgh Central School District.
Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said he was unaware of the hearing and did not expect to attend. But the county has areas that lack sufficient coverage and there is an impact of ‘dark spots’ in both internet and cell phone coverage on economic development opportunities,” Groden said.
Groden added that he recently discussed the issue in a meeting with Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102.
In 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented a $500 million New NY Broadband Program, with the aim of expanding broadband access to all areas of the state. That initiative is still ongoing.