Question: When it comes to technology, what do some rural areas and some urban areas of New York state have in common? Answer: The lack of it, as in no broadband connection. Which means no high-speed Internet with Web access, no accompanying data, video or voice services. That puts them at a distinct disadvantage, in terms of information, culture and economic opportunity, in a world where nearly everyone else is connected.
New York state knows where these areas are, thanks to a broadband mapping effort done in 2010 with federal stimulus money. The areas with the greatest percentages of people unconnected were the North Country and Mohawk Valley, with 10 percent and 7 percent respectively, while the area with the greatest number, simply because of its large population, was New York City.
The state received $160 million in all under President Obama’s universal broadband initiative, which appropriated nearly $8 billion to improve broadband infrastructure and access. In conceiving and funding this program, the president and Congress recognized that it meant jobs, both in existing fields that could use broadband to do things better and new fields that wouldn’t even exist without it.
And the state has made its own commitment to bringing high-speed Internet to under-served areas, after Gov. Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils made it part of their plans. In December, the economically stagnant North Country received a $6 million grant. And last week the governor’s office announced that another $25 million will be distributed around the state, including Gilboa in Schoharie County, Rensselaer and Washington Counties, the Mohawk Valley and New York City, for a total of $56 million since the Connect NY Grant Program began last August.
The money will go even further because the winning projects involve public-private partnerships with businesses and nonprofits. High-speed Internet is becoming essential in business and life in general. We all stand to gain if everyone has access to it.