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County has pockets with no broadband access

Is New York’s broadband access issue one of cost or lack of infrastructure?

The answer may be a little bit of both.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been quick to say the broadband access gap has been closed by his Broadband for All program, though many — including state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay — disagree with Cuomo’s assessment. The governor is looking to boost broadband access by requiring private companies to provide a $15 rate so that low-income residents can have access to broadband internet.

There are pockets of Chautauqua County lagging behind in internet access according to a fall 2020 survey compiled by the state Education Department. The New York Civil Liberties Union recently filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the survey, which showed that more than 165,000 students in New York state (6%) lacked internet access. In Chautauqua County, 1,058 of the county’s 18,353 students (5.76%) had no access to internet. The same percentage of students had no access to a device to access the internet.

Only 172 of the Jamestown Public School District’s 4,636 students didn’t have internet access. A bigger problem was lack of devices — 388 district students didn’t have a device. Southwestern Central School had a similar experience, with 95.5% of students having access to the internet and all of its students having access to a device.

The same was true in the Dunkirk/Fredonia area. The Dunkirk City School District reported 93.2% of students having access to the internet and 93.8% of students having access to a device. Fredonia Central School had 98.2% of its students with internet access and 91.8% of students having access to a device.

Other districts, however, saw far fewer students with internet access. All students in the Bemus Point Central School District had access to a device to access the internet, but only 67.8% could actually get online. Pine Valley Central School, likewise, had devices for all of its students but the district only has internet access for 64.3% of its students.

Other areas with a that struggled to provide access include the Falconer Central School District (88.7% internet access, 76.5% device access), Forestville Central School (80% internet access, 86.7% device access) and Panama Central School (90.2% internet access, 100% device access).

Borrello expressed his disappointment earlier this year when Cuomo used a pocket veto on the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act (S.8805/A.6679). Borrello had co-sponsored the bill, which would have required the state Public Service Commission to study the availability, affordability and reliability of high-speed internet in all areas of the state and provide a report and detailed map, all within a year.

“It is incredibly disappointing that the Governor has chosen to turn his back on rural New Yorkers and their continuing struggle for high-speed internet access by failing to enact this important measure. This pandemic has laid bare the inequities and gaps in broadband access that remain a reality in many upstate regions. Residents and schoolchildren who lack this essential technology are being left behind educationally, economically and socially,” Borrello said. “In his State of the State address the Governor once again cited his widely-disproven claim that 98 percent of the state now has access, a “success” that he attributes to his Broadband for All program. However, that figure has been repeatedly discredited by community-level surveys undertaken by local governments, by advocates such as Common Sense media which found 27 percent of New York’s schoolchildren lack access, and by a large, bi-partisan contingent of state and federal officials who have cited the inaccuracy of using census blocks as the metric to determine broadband coverage in a given region. “

Cuomo, meanwhile, vetoed the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act in part because of the survey’s $3 million cost coupled with the fact President Donald Trump had signed on for a $65 million federal project for the Federal Communications Commission to map broadband internet across the country. The governor’s $500 million Broadband For All subsidy program provided money for cable television and telephone companies to build out broadband infrastructure in areas that otherwise would not be built. Some of that money has made its way to Chautauqua County.

The governor signed the $15 a month low-income broadband in April, though it is now being challenged in federal court. Cuomo also announced recently that eligible households can sign up for an emergency broadband benefit starting May 12 that will provide up to $50 a month off of a monthly broadband bill through the federal Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

In addition, Governor Cuomo launched the Affordable Broadband Portal to help New Yorkers find the affordable broadband programs in their area.

“We just went through remote learning and kids having to learn from home and we saw the inequality in education,” Cuomo said during a late April news conference. “Well, remote learning. Yeah, if you have a computer, if you have someone who can work with you and if you have broadband internet. Too many families had to go to the local fast food place or library to get broadband because they didn’t have it at home. This remote learning discriminated against people of, once again, the haves and the have nots. Universal broadband that is accessible to everyone and affordable. First state in the nation if you’re a low-income family $15 and an internet company has to provide you high speed internet for $15.”

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