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Bipartisan Appeal To Keep Federal High-Speed Broadband Funds In NY

WAMC composite photo by Dave Lucas
"The internet now has gone from a novelty to a luxury to a necessity." ~ Senator Charles Schumer

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and a congressman from western New York are reaching across the aisle in an effort to protect $170 million in federal broadband funding declined by Verizon and now at risk of going to other states.

Schumer, a Democrat, and Republican Buffalo-area Congressman Chris Collins wrote to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, urging the agency to agree to keep the money in New York. In the letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Schumer and Collins say the funding would provide vital high-speed broadband access to rural and remote areas of the state.  "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." 

The letter was also signed by seven other members of the state's Congressional delegation, including members from both parties.

A message left for a Verizon spokesperson has not been returned.

Schoharie County-based Middleburgh Telephone Company did take the funding, over 5 and a half million dollars worth, to bring high-speed broadband access to five towns including 70 residences located in the neighboring Albany County town of Rensselaerville, on the fringe of Midtel’s service area.

During a visit to Albanylast spring, Schumer pointed out that 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, the a hundred years ago the way electricity was."

Credit wh.gov
In this screenshot from January 13, 2015, President Obama speaks on the need for affordable high-speed broadband for all Americans.

Since early 2015, President Obama has praised cities and towns that have taken steps to expedite broadband access.   "That gives them a huge competitive advantage. It means a business can come in and locate there knowing that they can hook into world markets, products, services, anywhere around the globe. You know what it feels like when you don't have a good internet connection, right? Everything's buffering, you're trying to download a video, you got that little circle thing that goes around and around. It's really aggravating."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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