New York promised common web. For a lot of rural residents within the hinterland, there was by no means any information, sport, or jobs

Governor Andrew Cuomo announces plans that in 2016 New York will be the first state to offer universal access to high-speed internet. (Photo provided – David Sommerstein, NCPR)

Since Patsy LaFlam’s local library and senior center closed at the start of the pandemic, she has developed a new mental map of places to access the internet.

“The city of Plattsburgh, Trinity Park, is a hotspot, the fire station in Altona, which is about 25 to 30 minutes from here, is a hotspot.” she lists. “CVPH Hospital … Lowes! Lowe’s is a hotspot. “

The broadband internet infrastructure has not yet reached her and around 50 other houses on her street in a community outside of Plattsburgh. She’s been looking at a personal wireless hotspot that gets internet from cell towers but was prevented from doing so at the expense.

“It’s very hard to get an internet here” LaFlam says.

For many in Nordland who don’t have broadband internet access at home, the pandemic has turned what was once a discomfort into a full-fledged crisis.

“I will say that not a day goes by that it is not brought up in some kind of conversation.” says newly elected MP Matthew Simpson. Simpson was president of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages and head of Horicon, Warren County.

When people started working and studying from home this spring, he heard from teachers looking for high-speed internet connections and doctors whose patients couldn’t connect to telemedicine appointments. “Ask, ‘when will the state do something about it?'”

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A government campaign for universal access

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In 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave an address in Potsdam that was written behind a sign “Broadband for everyone” and a promise to have universal access to high-speed internet across New York State by 2018.

“It does my heart good when the government actually sees a problem and deals with the problem, finds a solution and then does it in real time.” Said Cuomo.

Today, the Empire State Development Corporation estimates that broadband has reached 98% of the state, with the rest likely being concentrated in more remote areas like the North Country. The agency did not respond to a request for county level data or information on how the coverage is calculated.

Simpson and others say the state recently added its own barrier to expanding coverage through a new Department of Transportation fee, included in the latest state budget, adding to the already high cost of filling in the remaining service gaps.

Michael Santorelli, director of the Advanced Communications Law & Policy Institute at New York Law School, notes that businesses need to operate in rural areas such as the North Country. “The amount of money that is required to develop these systems and to operate and maintain them over the long term makes no sense.”

“You could be sparsely populated” he explained, “Or geographically remote.”

The state and federal government have offered subsidies to fill the profitability gap. Launched in 2015, the Cuomo program, touted in Potsdam, New NY Broadband, raised $ 500 million toward the goal of reaching all underserved areas.

“The deadline has moved a little. I think that’s because it is very complex to do. “ said Santorelli. “Building these networks in [areas that are] remote, challenging, especially … like the Adirondacks and elsewhere where a range of challenges may arise, environmental issues. “

But while the state tries to be the solution, it has also created a new part of the problem, says David Wolf of the Watertown-based Northern Country Development Agency.

The right-of-way tax approved in the last budget increases the cost of running broadband lines along state roads, including its own organization building broadband infrastructure that it leases to Internet service providers.

“The only way to get on and off many of the Adirondacks is through state highways.” Wolf notes, and while the new state levy excludes projects that were built with New NY Broadband funding, it includes many earlier projects that Wolf built with older state grants.

He calculates that these state fees could cost DANC up to $ 1.6 million per year.

“It would be 25% of our total budget” Wolf says, money that he would otherwise put into more infrastructure investments. He has already put two major projects on hold.

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A new urgency amid the pandemic

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The Watertown Daily Times identified several other troubled projects. An editorial written during the pandemic while the children were doing distance learning in the newspaper mentioned the fee “A tax for first graders who want to study.”

State lawmakers Sen. Joseph Griffo, Sen. Patty Ritchie, Sen. Betty Little, and Congregation Mark Walczyk sent a letter calling on the governor in June “Rethink and forego” the right of way tax that writes that “Albany should do everything it can to create a climate for accessible broadband without being discouraged.”

Wolf usually said that kind of outcry might have canceled the charge, “But given the budget crisis that New York State is having, I don’t think they will eliminate it or even reduce it enormously.”

The New York State Division of the Budget declined to respond to questions about whether the state is undermining its own goals.

“These fees help ensure the safe and appropriate installation of fiber optics on public properties and to ensure the safety of workers and the traveling public.” Joe Morrisey, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, says.

Marco DiGirolomo, who conducts technology training at Senior Planet North Country, notes that internet access is critical to the health and safety of older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Shopping for groceries online or going to the doctor, but also being more socially connected with friends and seeing people” he notices, “Because it becomes very isolating when you no longer have the personal contact that you have been used to all your life.”

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