Albany Broadband Study Surveys Connectivity
Albany is conducting a public survey to evaluate its broadband options.
Albany is reaching out to residents and businesses in an effort to better understand and evaluate the broadband landscape. What internet services are available, what internet services are needed, and how might they be made fast and affordable?
Technology has taken substantial leaps over the last decade. U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer says internet access and computer skills are critical in today's economy. "Like telephones and electricity and television were in their decades, the internet now has gone from a novelty to a luxury to a necessity. Everyone relies on it. We need it to do our jobs, to study, to communicate, to do nearly everything. That means reliable, high-speed internet access is absolutely essential, for a family, a business, a school to succeed, just y'know a way the a hundred years ago the way electricity was."
Albany's survey is the latest chapter in an ongoing study: the city's "Broadband Initiative Working Group" was launched back in July in an effort to empower its fledgling wifi system to expand beyond downtown borders. High-speed internet is currently available through Time Warner Cable, Verizon and various over-the-air providers, but consumers have to deal with carrier-imposed restrictions that in many cases can only be overcome by paying those providers more and more each month. For example, Verizon FIOS is available with a capped speed of 50 Mbps under an introductory offer of $49.99 /mo for just the first year, not including taxes, equipment "charges" and other fees. Schumer says that "As of September 2014 there were more than 200,000 households in upstate New York that did not have access to 25 Mbps. And according to the FCC, there are more than 77,000 households in upstate that are eligible to receive unclaimed fundiong because they were in Verizon's territory. In the Capital Region, 33,000 without access to 25 Mbps, Central New York 30,000. Western New York 20,000. Rochester-Finger Lakes 17,000. Southern Tier 20,000. Hudson Valley only 2700. North Country 53,000."
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan is encouraging the public and the business community to complete online surveys. "Is it fast enough? Is it affordable? Is it available? What are you looking for? We need to collect that information so that we can really focus on a plan for the city moving forward to ensure that we have the highest speeds and the best technology available."
Sheehan says the challenge is to find a solution that will give everyone affordable and fast broadband access. "We're not reaching any conclusions until we really gather the information and the data and understand where there are challenges, where there are gaps, where there's affordability, there are a lot of models across the country of municipalities approaching this, but for us it's about economic development and it's also about equity and access."
• Survey responses are needed by June 1st
The need for online speed extends out past the suburbs, into rural areas of the state. Senator Schumer recently revealed that over $170 million in federal funds that was set aside for upstate to expand broadband and high speed internet service could be sent to other parts of the country. "There was one carrier, the biggest one, that decided not to take advantage of this new funding last year, and that was Verizon. That was their prerogative. None of these bills forced them to do it. We thought it was a good incentive, and the other three companies in New York took them up on it, but Verizon didn't. And so there was $28 million to expand rural broadband that went unspent. That's over six years. So now, there's $170 million that should have been allocated to New York that is just sitting there because Verizon didn't take it."
Schumer says his office has asked Verizon why it won't use the funds but received no answer. Messages left for Verizon's spokesperson have not been returned.