DOWN TO BUSINESS: Stories persist about spotty broadband in New York state

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DOWN TO BUSINESS – New Yorkers from rural counties offered tales of woe earlier this week as the state Public Service Commission took statements online to update its inaugural 2022 report on broadband availability in the state.

A woman from Callicoon, a hamlet in Sullivan County, noted with deadpan humor that she had to drive around in her car until she could find a signal to call in to the hearing by cellphone to report “zero service” for internet in her neighborhood. She said she has been quoted $112,000 to bring wired internet to her home.

A woman from South Otselic, in Chenango County, said a provider offered to split the cost of extending service to her address, but she couldn’t afford her $3,000 share. Her existing dial-up is unreliable, she said, but understood that, if she quit it, she wouldn’t be able to return because speeds now are too low to be offered in a contract.

And Gina Mitzner, executive director of the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce, mentioned how in the summer, starting at about 2 p.m., internet service begins to slow throughout the popular tourist area as usage strains the limited broadband available.

These and other comments came as the commission works to meet a 2021 mandate to annually gauge availability, reliability and cost of high-speed broadband service in the state. The first report on service, released last summer, is due to be updated soon; written comments will be taken through April 3.

Included in the update will be a second iteration of an interactive map showing internet service throughout the state by street address, which still has some bugs, judging from remarks about a missing address or an inaccurate provider listing.

The 2022 report indicated that 97.4% of New York addresses overall are served by high-speed broadband; 2.5% are unserved (no provider meeting minimum download speeds) and 0.1% are underserved (having at least one provider, but offering slower speeds). Three of New York’s 62 counties, though – Hamilton, Lewis and Cattaraugus – are significantly below that, in the 70% range.

Locally, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Albany and Saratoga counties all show well for high-speed service, but each still has from a couple hundred to a couple thousand address points in the “unserved” category, according to the report.

A common refrain heard this week is that internet service is “no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity,” as one woman from Allegany County put it. She was echoed by another who pointed to the importance of internet access for health care, education, emergency services, work and civic participation.

While it was suggested the commission regulate internet service providers like it oversees telephone, cable, electric, gas and water utilities, the report noted that the Federal Communications Commission, which has broad jurisdiction over interstate services, has classified broadband as an interstate information service, which limits the state’s statutory authority.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at  [email protected]

Categories: Opinion, Opinion

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