Kennedy: North Country lags behind in broadband access and availability

Last week, the North Country got a shout out in a state report on the availability and affordability of broadband service across New York City.

That wasn’t complimentary, however: The vast expanse of northern New York known as the North Country ranked first of the state’s 10 regions in 2019 both as a percentage of the topless population. available speed (5%) and as a percentage of households lack of broadband Internet access (19.3%).

“Availability” means that a geographic area has been wired for service. “Accessibility” indicates that a household has a subscription with a provider offering broadband service, including cell phone plans.

The report, from Controller Thomas DiNapoli, noted that while broadband availability has improved dramatically statewide, accessibility still lags. Which is a problem in the era of COVID, when a reliable high-speed internet “is a necessity for working, communicating and learning effectively”, especially at home, according to the report.

But a group of North Country actors are looking to change their lot.

Under the leadership of EDC Warren County – the county’s economic development agency – and the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board, six counties and four service providers applied for a grant to a branch of the US Department of Commerce. to extend broadband coverage.

The department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA, which focuses primarily on broadband expansion, announced the competitive $ 288 million grant program in May. The deadline for submissions was mid-August, and by November, grant recipients are expected to be selected.

Dubbed the North Country Broadband Deployment Program, the local effort involves the counties of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Warren and Washington, all located in northeastern New York. The service providers are Charter / Spectrum, SLIC Network Solutions, Champlain Technology Group, and Hudson Valley Wireless, all of which operate there.

Their request is for $ 20 million – counties and providers will invest 10% of the total – to bring broadband to 3,000 unserved or underserved addresses. Jim Siplon, county chairman of EDC Warren, said the targeted households and businesses are “unevenly distributed” across the six counties, depending on the greatest need.

The money will be used to build the service infrastructure. Siplon said the work is to be completed in 2022, according to the grant’s requirements.

The announcement of the grant attracted more than 230 applications for more than $ 2.5 billion, NTIA said.

Siplon called the local group’s submission “compelling.” He tells of telehealth sessions that failed early in the pandemic due to service shortages and students forced to sit in parking lots of public buildings to access Wi-Fi and download homework when COVID closed schools .

And even if it doesn’t, “the process will have been worth it,” he said.

That’s because a working group now meets weekly on broadband, and the multi-country format – “no one has ever tried” to bring the north of the country together as a region, Siplon says – can be applied to other common concerns, such as housing and transport.

Marlene kennedy is a freelance columnist. The opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper. Reach her at [email protected]

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