For the last five years, elected officials at all levels in New York state have pleaded their case that rural areas have little or no access to broadband on which internet users depend. Today the officials are responding to another slap in the face from the federal government, and their message is: Enough is enough.
Last week the Federal Communications Commission released a list of 48 states with locations deemed eligible to receive big Phase I Rural Digital Opportunity Fund awards, to be voted on later by the entire FCC at the end of the month.
Incredibly, New York did not make the list that would make the state eligible for $16 billion in funding, despite having hundreds of rural zones, including many in Greene and Columbia counties, underserved or not served at all.
What gives the officials’ response more gravity than ever is that it is bipartisan. Rival U.S. Reps. Antonio Delgado, D-19, and Elise Stefanik, R-21, joined forces with about two dozen other congressmembers to tell the FCC in a letter that there are still areas of New York state that lack access to broadband from a fixed provider at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps.
“We urgently request that these communities be considered eligible areas for the purposes of Phase 1,” Delgado wrote.
Urgently is right. For rural areas such as those in Columbia and Greene counties, the problems accompanying poor communications are severe. Without reliable access, small businesses cannot easily find or maintain contact with suppliers or important clients. Without reliable access, small businesses have no incentive to settle in this area. Connectivity is also necessary at a personal level for access to health care, education, jobs and public safety.
The FCC needs to offer a better explanation to elected officials for its denial of a game-changing monetary award to New York state, because whatever its rationale, it’s obviously wrongheaded. And leaders representing the state need to push the FCC even harder. We need broadband funding. The FCC shouldn’t make access more difficult than it is now.