ALBANY — The federal government is providing $170 million to increase high-speed internet access in rural areas of upstate New York.
Combined with at least $200 million in state funding and private-sector investment, the outlay is expected to create wider availability of broadband service, an important piece of infrastructure in the digital age.
Thursday’s vote by the Federal Communications Commission was the first under Chairman Ajit Pai. The $170 million will be drawn from the Connect America Fund, which the FCC created in 2011 to support expansion of broadband service in rural areas. Applicants will be selected through New York’s competitive New NY Broadband Program.
Thursday’s FCC announcement was hailed by the U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand; Gov. Andrew Cuomo; and U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, a western New York Republican.
Schumer and Gillibrand said they opposed the FCC’s plan to move the $170 million to other states after Verizon declined the allocation for New York in 2015.
“So with today’s announcement, other broadband companies in upstate will now have the opportunity to work with the state in order to bid on this funding to improve upstate’s broadband access,” Schumer said in a prepared statement.
The federal funds will complement the $500 million New NY Broadband Program announced by the state in 2015.
Schumer’s office noted that more than half of all rural Americans lack access to service providing 25 megabits-per-second download and 3 Mbps upload speeds, which are the FCC’s benchmark for broadband service.
State officials said that, as of December 2015, there were approximately 239,000 households across upstate New York that did not have access to 25 Mbps service.
“Reliable, fast internet access should not be a luxury; it’s a necessity in the 21st century economy,” Gillibrand said in a prepared statement. “Lack of affordable broadband service cuts off families and businesses from critical services. These federal funds, combined with additional state funds, will give our rural communities in upstate New York greater access to the resources they need to get online and stay competitive in our digital economy.”