DiNapoli: ‘Digital divide’ plagues rural NY

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli discusses broadband challenges in New York on Tuesday during a news conference at Hudson City Hall. Natasha Vaughn-Holdridge/Columbia-Greene Media

HUDSON — Local, state and federal officials traveled to Hudson to discuss broadband challenges in New York.

The state Comptroller’s Office released a report Tuesday looking at broadband, household access and availability.

“Reliable, high-speed internet is a necessity to effectively work, communicate and learn in our society and that was made crystal clear during the COVID-19 pandemic when millions of New Yorkers turned their homes into schools and workplaces,” Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said during a news conference at Hudson City Hall.

“The state has taken significant steps to make broadband available to most New Yorkers, but there is still a digital divide in rural parts of New York and for low-income New Yorkers who don’t have access or are unable to afford a home subscription,” DiNapoli said.

Broadband can be looked at in two ways, DiNapoli said: One is availability or the geographic region that is wired for broadband. The other is access to broadband. One in three New York households with an income less than $20,000 lacked access to broadband at home, according to the report.

New York is ranked second in the nation in percentage of the population with broadband availability in their neighborhood. The report found there are more that 1 million households, or 13.8% of households in the state, that do not have access or a subscription to home broadband services.

“What are the solutions? The state needs to craft a detailed strategy that can leverage the federal funding provided by the American Rescue Plan and any new funds that may be provided under the infrastructure bill currently before Congress,” DiNapoli said. “And were very hopeful.”

In Columbia County, 0.8% of the population does not have broadband available to them, and 15.1% of the county’s households are without broadband access. In Greene County, 1.7% of the population does not have broadband available to them and 18.2% of households lack broadband access.

“We need street level analysis,” U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, said. “A far more accurate methodology.”

Using Census block data for broadband availability maps does not give an accurate depiction of an area’s availability and access to broadband, Delgado said.

The Rhinebeck congressman also talked about the need for faster internet speeds. He said the old 25 megabits per second is no longer fast enough to do what people learning and working from home need from their internet, and that speeds of 100 megabites are needed.

Looking at a street level analysis of broadband infrastructure was recently conducted in Columbia County.

“The comptroller’s broadband report provides valuable insight into the issues of broadband access, availability and affectability,” CEDC President F. Michael Tucker said. “The data support the initial finding of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors’ ongoing broadband study, which has identified over 1,200 unserved.”

All the speakers noted how important having broadband became in the home during the pandemic when students were learning remotely and adults were converting living rooms to office space.

“We all know all too well life in the age of COVID made it alarmingly clear to every New Yorker just how essential broadband is,” Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-Hudson, said. “To live, to learn, to work, to play and to stay well and healthy in the 21st century.”

Access to high-speed broadband is a public need, state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, said.

“It’s so important to advance an agenda that puts the people’s needs first, and access to affordable, reliable high-speed broadband is exactly that,” Jordan said. “A public need, a public benefit, a public good — that’s what state Comptroller DiNapoli has done in advancing his comprehensive, thoughtful new report which is a must read for anyone.”

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