Establish high-speed Internet connections in New York’s hardest-to-reach places

New York continues to expand high-speed Internet access statewide through a new initiative called ConnectALL. A replacement for former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New NY Broadband program, the ConnectALL initiative is a $1.4 billion program that will use $300 million in public funds and $1.1 billion from the federal government. Of the federal money, $800 million comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and $345 million from the US bailout.

The money will allow the state to provide faster Internet speeds in areas below the recommended speed of 100 Mbps, provide an Internet subsidy of $30 per month for low-income households, and provide subsidies for assist with construction projects to lay fiber optic cables.

Governor Kathy Hochul also revoked the State Department of Transportation PERM 75 permit program – known as the fiber tax – which allowed the department to impose fiber optic fees, charging internet service providers thousands of dollars per mile on fiber facilities in the state right-of-way.

In 2015, when Cuomo launched the New NY Broadband program, 7 million New Yorkers and 113,000 businesses did not have 100mbps internet access speeds, including over 70% of upstate New York. About 256,000 locations, homes, businesses and community centers were connected to broadband just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It has helped many people get through the pandemic while working or attending school remotely.

Despite this leap, there is more new yorkers who do not have access to broadband, especially those in rural areas.

“It’s been a long-standing goal for us to remove barriers to rural parts of the state,” said Scott Rasmussen, ConnectALL’s acting director. “Governor. Hochul recognizes that we are not off the hook yet. The next phase will see a more holistic path in terms of competition, fairness and digital literacy.

Kristin Devoe, spokeswoman for Empire State Development, said what was left over from the previous initiative was “very, very expensive” and there was a lot to cover, especially in the most rural areas. more difficult to access. According to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in September 2021, more than one million New York households do not have a broadband connection. Most of these locations are in the North Country, Mohawk Valley, and central New York.

Another underserved location was the Southern Tier region. Steve Manning, CEO of the non-profit telecommunications association South layer network, said between 15,000 and 22,000 homes were defined as underserved because they lack access to 100Mbps broadband.

Yates and Schuyler counties, the third and second least populated counties in New York, are setting up their own broadband projects to solve this problem. Yates County Administrator Winona Flynn proposed the Yates County Reconnection Project, which aims to provide broadband access to the 26% of households that still use ADSL or dial-up internet. It is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture ReConnect Grant, and it is a public-private partnership with an Internet service provider. Flynn said the fiber tax would have cost the county about $20,000 a year, since Yates will own the installed fiber and share the revenue with the provider.

Fonda Chronis, the county administrator for Schuyler County, which has a population of 18,000, said eliminating the fiber tax will result in significant savings for its own broadband projects.

“We would have to pay to connect to those lines,” he said. “Anything that increases the costs of these efforts reduces our ability to use fiber. Anytime the state can remove a regulation and some cost, it’s totally beneficial to the whole project of getting broadband to everyone we can.

Marian Walrath, project manager of the Yates County ReConnect project, also pointed out that private internet service providers cannot afford to install fiber themselves in rural areas and therefore choose not to install it. .

“They don’t make enough money to build in those places,” Walrath said. “They will build in areas where we have a high density property location. But where we have all the farms and houses that are half a mile from the road, then it becomes for every mile that the ISP has to build, they’re not going to build on that road if all that they’re gonna get is only one person to sign up.

City & State asked Charter Communications about its Spectrum Internet service and the obstacles preventing it from providing broadband in rural areas of New York. Lara Pritchard, spokeswoman for the company, said that while the costs of building a cable system should be the same statewide, fewer homes meant less chance of acquiring customers, and therefore more silver. There is also a problem with the telephone poles.

“The poles are usually owned by telephone or electric utilities, not cable companies,” Pritchard said. “When we attach poles belonging to these utilities, we need their permission. Many older poles in rural areas lack modernization and investment, and with the need to connect to more poles to reach the potential customers in these areas, this often requires more pole replacements. Without fair rules, broadband providers are forced to pay all of these costs, even if they don’t own the poles.”

Rural New York isn’t the only place struggling to pay for internet service. According to Steve Myrthil, the vice president of information technology for nonprofit housing development and social services westhab, some people in Yonkers can only access the internet through their cellphones and others find it difficult to pay for internet service. According to the Census Bureau, 16.2% of Yonkers households do not have a broadband internet subscription.

Westhab works to renovate vacant buildings to create affordable housing with in-house social services in Westchester County and New York. It has worked to bring free Wi-Fi to its Westchester locations, including Yonkers. At the beginning of last year, a $250,000 grant from Cisco enabled Westhab to provide state-of-the-art technology for one of its housing campuses in the Nodine Hill neighborhood of Yonkers. Myrthil’s next project is to oversee the Y-Zone programwhich will partner with Yonkers and several organizations to ensure that households in Underserved areas of Yonkers would have free wifi. Myrthil said many landlords cannot afford to hire internet companies to install Wi-Fi in their own buildings.

“There are drill holes and real material,” Myrthil said. “There’s also standard government bureaucracy, like paperwork and getting permits, and that can take weeks.”

Despite all the financial hurdles across the state, projects are being developed. Schuyler County turned to the ConnectALL program to develop a map that will identify parts of the county that need better service so it can move forward on broadband projects. The card should be ready at the beginning of June. But, Chronis said the card could reveal surprises where service falls short.

He also expects intensive planning and significant funding to occur next, and the county will need to create a coalition of internet service providers and regional leaders.

“The challenge is localized,” he said. “But still very important.”

Walrath thinks so, but added that it was an item in Yates County’s longer-term strategic plan that needed to be addressed.

“My understanding is that utilities like gas, heat and electricity are regulated in large part because of the significant investment in necessary infrastructure,” she said. “While broadband requires investment in infrastructure, there are so many different technologies and they are changing so quickly. So personally I think competition (among providers) is perhaps the best unregulated way to manage broadband.

Even Rasmussen would like to see competition among internet service providers, although he said the state legislature should work on it.

He added that the development of broadband projects for the next phase of ConnectALL helps empower local residents.

“Local communities are best placed to solve local problems,” Rasmussen said. “Access issues are different in urban, suburban and rural areas. It’s a big challenge, but we’re really approaching this not as rural versus urban, but to get everyone on board. This (phase) is set to overtake the first time.

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