New York’s junior U.S. senator and lieutenant governor were in Plattsburgh this afternoon to promote new legislation that would help expand broadband in rural areas of the state.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul toured the Primelink facilities in Plattsburgh, one of the companies that provide fiber optic and high speed internet services across northern New York. Senator Gillibrand noted that more than one-third of rural and tribal Americans lack access to affordable high speed internet, including many in the North Country. “We have to fix this problem and I'm proud to announce a bipartisan bill to do that that I've introduced in the Senate. The bill is called the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act and it would give our rural communities new access to federal funding that they can use to build high speed Internet infrastructure. Many of our rural communities want access to high speed Internet now and desperately need it but they can't set it up because the cost of this infrastructure can be prohibitive. The bill would solve this problem by allowing rural New York communities to apply for a combination of loans and grants that would help them fund this infrastructure.”
Gillibrand added that the legislation modifies an existing program in two ways. “First we're making it from $25 million to $50 million so there's more funds. And second we're allowing the grants to cover 75 percent of the cost for a high need area. So the combination of those two things means more resources and then covering more of the actual costs so more families can get access to Internet because for some of these low density areas you really need to subsidize the cost of laying the rural broadband.”
Gillibrand and Hochul, both Democrats, were surrounded by executives from regional internet providers. Crown Point Telephone President Shana Macey said that they know that economic growth and other sectors rely heavily on broadband. “We all agree the need is great, the geography is rugged and our population density can be quite sparse. Combine all these factors with the variables of tourism and year round residents and you have an equation that all us service providers often struggle to solve. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation will allow us to have all the factors add up to a more palatable and sustainable business plan.”
Mohawk Networks LLC brought fiber to every home and business on the Akwasasne territory. Its subsidiary North Country Broadband is now activating customers in Lowville. Chief Ron LaFrance says it is crucial to find innovative ways to spread high speed internet at lower costs. “You know it's important that we have the opportunity to bring high speed broadband to over 43,000 people who are either under-served or not served at all. You know it's kind of shocking that in 2016 we have that many people who are either under-served or not served at all.”
Under Gillibrand’s proposal federal grants would cover up to 50 percent of a project’s cost or up to 75 percent in remote, high-need areas.