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North Country officials hopeful federal broadband announcement leads to rural deployment

A MacBook laptop computer shown in 2016.
Marcio Jose Sanchez
A MacBook laptop computer shown in 2016.

North Country officials are hoping that a recent announcement of federal funding for broadband infrastructure will help get the service into rural homes that lack high-speed internet.

According to the White House, more than 8.5 million American households and small businesses are in areas with no broadband infrastructure and millions more have limited or unreliable internet. In late June, the Biden administration announced $40 billion will be distributed nationwide for high-speed internet deployment.

A September 2021 report from the New York State Comptroller’s office charted the share of households without broadband access in 2019. The North Country was at 19 percent – the highest in the state.

New York will receive $664.6 million in the latest federal funding announcement to close the broadband accessibility gap.

North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas says it’s physically difficult to deploy high-speed internet due to the region’s rural nature and mountainous topography.

“The billion dollars or more that was invested by the state of New York under the previous governor brought us a lot of progress, a lot of remarkable progress, in terms of running broadband and closing many, many gaps. What’s left is inherently then the most difficult and expensive sections still left to do. We’ve been imparting that message for the last year to the governor’s office and to Empire State Development, which is running the Connect New York program, to make sure that they have sufficiently flexible approaches. We’re hopeful about that. Step one is to get the money flowing in the pipeline. Things are going to need to be done differently in the Adirondacks than to close a gap on Long Island or in some other rural region somewhere in upstate New York because of the nature and the sparsity and the distances.”

State Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, who represents the 115th district and was a member of the former Upstate Cellular Task Force, says the state budgeted $1.4 billion dollars last year for broadband. He says the federal funding will help but won’t solve the goal of 100 percent broadband access.

“I’ve been pushing this initiative and these initiatives for so long because I realize how important it is to our residents and to our businesses and to our commerce and our economic development and our education system here and our public safety and it touches every facet of our lives. So this is very important and we just need to make sure that we get our fair share here, right here in the North Country and I guess I’m just sick and tired of waiting around. I just want to get this money out and distributed and into the hands of our network providers that can actually start connecting and hooking our North Country residents up. But just get the darn money out the door is what I’m saying I guess so we can continue on this.”

Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman, a fellow Democrat, is glad to see the federal government committing to more investment in broadband infrastructure.

“But we’ve been talking about this for such a long time. Such a long time. It seems like every other year or every other month there’s these big, great, grand sweeping announcements of investments in broadband. And it’s needed and it should be celebrated. But can we get the friggin’ work done folks? People are tired of the announcements. They want to see that they can actually get online and connect. And I say this to our partners in the state, to the feds: a little less talk, a little less press releases and a lot more rolling up your sleeves and getting people hooked up. Because it’s not a new thing. It’s old news and it’s great that the funding is coming there, but it only matters if people can actually get online.”

The federal funding comes from the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

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