Politicians like to talk about rural broadband internet access. They really like to talk about it.
We’d like less talk and more progress.
Broadband is a popular talking point. Why wouldn’t it be? We all like the internet. With the explosion of streaming services and the so-called “internet of things” — the devices we control from our smartphones and digital assistants, broadband access is more and more a part of our lives.
Unless you’re on a rural road somewhere, where this magical stuff just isn’t available.
We expected Gov. Andrew Cuomo to bring it up again and he did not disappoint. Last week’s ‘State of the State” addresses, predictably, included a commitment to broadband.
Cuomo correctly noted the increased reliance on internet access for remote school and work, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Immediately, it became clear that universal broadband was a prerequisite for success in a remote world,” a media release from Cuomo’s office said.
Cuomo announced he would propose legislation requiring internet service providers to offer an affordable $15 per month high speed internet plan to all low-income households. “The State will also require providers to advertise this plan to ensure programs reach underserved populations across the State,” the release said.
That’s great, but it doesn’t take into account that broadband is not available to some people at any price, despite all the years of talking about it.
Cuomo bragged of “nearly $500 million dollars invested to expand broadband internet to 98 percent of the state.”
We assume he means 98 percent of the people, not 98 percent of the populated surface area. Certainly the cities, where people are concentrated, are well served by broadband infrastructure. The hinterlands, not so much.
An experienced politician, Cuomo has been playing the broadband card for years. We were not surprised to see a political neophyte, state Sen. Peter Oberacker, play it too.
Touting his assignment as the ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Internet and Technology, Oberacker said in a media release, “High-speed broadband is a major need and many in my district and across upstate New York are being held back because they are unable to access this critical service. In fact, I am the only sitting senator unable to access high-speed broadband while at home. Regulatory roadblocks standing in the way of broadband expansion must be eliminated and additional funding to expedite growth is also needed.”
Oberacker gets some leeway. He’s brand-new in the job. Maybe he’s the guy who will get it done. Being without broadband at home, he certainly has some motivation. We wish him well.
It’s important to say here that our area has seen good progress on expansion of broadband because of a creative partnership between rural electric cooperatives and telephone companies.
Just as the Rural Electrification Administration brought power lines 80 years ago to places commercial providers deemed unprofitable, the rural electric cooperatives in Otsego and Delaware counties are working with internet providers to bring broadband to the distant corners of the sprawling landscape. Particularly in Delaware County, which is fortunate to have two locally owned telephone companies to act as partners in the effort, the dream of high-speed internet access has become real for many.
To be fair, much of that expansion has been paid for with the state funding Cuomo has bragged about.
There’s a lot left to be done, though. We appreciate hearing that access to broadband is a priority of those empowered to make it possible, but we’d like to hear less talk and see more action.