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Albany Broadband Committee Holds First Meeting

Albany's new Commission on Municipal Internet Service met this week for the first time via Zoom.
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Albany's new Commission on Municipal Internet Service met this week for the first time via Zoom.

Albany's new Commission on Municipal Internet Service met this week for the first time.

10th Ward Common Councilor Owusu Anane has been leading the call to connect Albany, arguing that the most effective means of ensuring universal access to reliable, affordable high quality internet is to establish municipal service.

The Democrat says 29% of Albany residents cannot work from home, apply for jobs online, recertify unemployment claims or request services online, because they cannot afford home internet access. He says young students need broadband to succeed.

"Around the country cities, such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, have increased competition by creating their own internet service which generates faster speed, lower cost."

Anane welcomed panelists to the introductory session. Craig Waltz, a data analysis manager with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, noted that one of the barriers that needs to be overcome is the arrangement former Mayor Jerry Jennings made over a decade ago that essentially created a cable television monopoly.

"I have the benefit of being one of the few people sitting here, who at the time, the last cable agreement was done with us and with the City of Albany, actively opposed that agreement. There should not be an exclusive agreement with one company, you are basically giving them your full access to your checking account and saying, go ahead and spend anything you want. And we're accepting pennies in return. I mean, literally, pennies in, say pennies in return for consistently substandard service."

Albany Public Library executive director Scott Jarzombek wondered how a fair pay system for city internet service might be implemented.

"Would any of you be open to the idea of exploring a sliding scale, cost of internet based on income, and based on students who are in our school district? Looking at the other municipal provided connections out there, some of them are relatively costly. And I'm wondering if one way that we can solve some of these issues is to have a sliding scale based on home income, or whether or not they have a student in the school district."

Other panelists backed away from imposing sliding service speeds but agreed a fair fee structure needs to be created and community input is critical.

Jeff Quain is the Director of Operations at J Strategies of Albany.

"I think we should have all the options on the table for this. You know, and part of our charge is looking at partnerships with schools, libraries, you know, nonprofits, whatever that may be. So here's an opportunity to offset some of the costs there, here's an opportunity to engage our state delegation about funding in the upcoming budget, then let's do that. Um, you know, I want to be careful, of course, if everyone remembers when New York mandated the $15, broadband access service, the telecommunications companies sued and put a hold on it."

The 10-member commission has 120 days to submit a preliminary report, and 150 days after that to issue a final 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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