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Region makes push for rural Broadband

Over the past several years, the state government, in conjunction with the service providers in the area, have made a large push to expand Broadband access to rural parts of the county. While the need to expand access had been rising over the last few years as more technology moved online, the need for access was amplified exponentially by the COVID-19 pandemic.

New York state Sen. George Borrello, when he was still a part of the Chautauqua County legislature, pushed hard to expand broadband into the rural issues because so many people were having issues. Also a member of the Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Board, Borrello and the board were big advocates for pushing local broadband, and worked together to secure a grant through the ARC. Between Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany counties pitching in, they were able to secure the grant.

“This year they’ve been rolling out more broadband access to more than 4,000 homes throughout the region,” Borrello said. “It’s been a very positive effort.”

Even prior to the pandemic, the push to expand access into rural areas through the use of Fiber Optic cables had begun. Borrello’s long term goal is to have reliable access for as close to 100% of people as possible, and the strides to do that have already begun.

“There were substantial moves made prior to the pandemic,” Borrello said. “There are thousands more homes and businesses now being served thanks to federal funded projects. In 2015, the program the state rolled out helped, right now throughout Western New York and the Southern Tier, we’re really on the fast track to expand broadband access.”

There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of getting broadband to rural communities, but one of the groups spearheading this process is DFT Communication. In 2017, DFT was awarded $4.274 million under the New NY Broadband Grant Program, and since then they have been following the goal to expand broadband access across the county. Especially now in the pandemic, the need is much larger.

“The pandemic amplifies the need,” said Wade Levan, DFT Director of Carrier Sales & Services. “It’s an economic way for rural America to come back to more of an even playing field with the more urban areas. It allows people to put more money back in their own pocket, which is the crux of why it’s so important and what needs to happen and why it needs to happen that way. I think everybody can always use extra money in their budget for living.”

As part of that, DFT rolled out an eight tier program for the Dunkirk, Fredonia, and Cassadaga territories to roll Fiber Cables into those areas. DFT completed phases one and two at the end of 2020, with the third phase occurring this year, and the fourth phase coming in 2022. After the first few phases were completed, they were actually able to condense it a bit further, down to six phases.

There have been a few issues with the FiberOptic rollout, such as the government adding a tax to cable that went into effect at the start of 2020, taxing the cable per foot, as well as cables being harder to find and being bought out. Although progress is certainly still being made, the tax in particular has been a large hang up, as Borrello notes.

“That tax is unfair because it’s a tax on state rights in a way,” Borrello said. ” No other utility is taxed, only broadband. Water, sewer, and electricity have no fee. We have to treat it as a basic infrastructure need, because people can’t survive without it. If you have kids working remotely, or have someone who works from home, or operates a business, you have to treat it like that. Treating it unfairly with the fee that’s been assessed is detrimental to getting access rolled out.”

Given the access already being rolled out, and the need being amplified, local officials and providers are working their hardest to put people in rural communities on the same playing field, in regards to internet speed and access, as urban areas.

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