EDITORIAL: Restore funding for broadband access

Computers and headphones are displayed outside the Academy of Science and Technology School in Albany on Wednesday. Hannaford Supermarkets donated $107,000 to the Albany and Schenectady city school districts to increase access to education for students learning from home during COVID-19.
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Computers and headphones are displayed outside the Academy of Science and Technology School in Albany on Wednesday. Hannaford Supermarkets donated $107,000 to the Albany and Schenectady city school districts to increase access to education for students learning from home during COVID-19.

If you’ve been frustrated with slow or intermittent internet reception trying to work from home, or if your kids have been having trouble accessing their remote school classes, or if your business can’t take full advantage of online sales and marketing opportunities, or if you’re a senior citizen trying to access tele-medicine, or if you just want to watch a movie online without the urge to put your fist through your computer monitor, then you know how urgent it is for the state to address high-speed broadband access.

Despite state and federal government claims that the New York has 98% coverage, the reality is that there are massive gaps in the state’s broadband coverage, particularly in rural areas.

There was some hope last year that the state was beginning to address those gaps when lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have required the state Public Service Commission to study the availability, affordability and reliability of high-speed internet and broadband access, submit a report, hold regional public hearings, and work with providers to prioritize access in poor and underserved areas.

For $3 million, a drop in the bucket of a $193 billion state budget, this legislation would have focused the state’s efforts on reaching the areas most in need and spurred discussions with providers on how to go about filing the gaps.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo refused to sign the bill, saying instead that such funding should be part of the state budget process. Instead, he said he would introduce a similar plan as part of the budget talks.

The problem is that it’s easy for priorities to change and for money to be negotiated in and out of the budget, especially when the governor and lawmakers are fighting for their priorities.

Well, here we are less than a month from the budget deadline, and, surprise surprise, both the money and the plan are nowhere to be found.

In a follow-up in the Times-Union, Cuomo’s state said he didn’t include the $3 million proposal in the budget because President Trump agreed right before he left office to spend $65 million to upgrade the federal government’s own broadband maps.

That’s hardly reassuring. The maps are no good now because of the formula the feds use to determine broadband access.

What makes anyone think the federal government can be counted on to actually do the update, do them in a timely manner and get it right this time?

New Yorkers need assurances that this problem is being addressed now, not at some vague time in the future.

Because high-speed broadband service is so crucial for everything from commerce to emergency services, state lawmakers can’t let this effort slip through the cracks in the rush to complete the budget on time.

They need to place the funding for it in the budget and not let it disappear in the late-night haze of final budget negotiations.

Reliable, high-speed internet coverage is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity.

Lawmakers need to treat it as one.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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