There is something we and our public officials can do about the problem, but time is running out. August 15 is the deadline for proposals from internet providers to compete for improvement projects paid from a pot of state money that could help a great deal. Up for grabs is over $400 million reserved for areas which the state considers “unserved” and “underserved” by broadband internet speed.
Guess what region of the state has the highest percentage of households defined as “unserved?” You got it. Us, the Adirondacks.
Take a peek at all the colored blobs on the above map of northern New York (or click here for larger version), indicating areas eligible for state broadband funding because they don’t have adequate broadband internet connections.
New York State defines minimum acceptable broadband as 100 Mbps (megabits per second) download time from the web to your computer. Think of Mbps like miles per hour on the highway. Our download speeds compare to a Model T’s maximum speed versus a Porsche, with ours less than 6 Mbps in many homes. At even roughly three times that speed, it would take thirty minutes to download an HD movie.
To put 100 Mbps in perspective, some countries, like South Korea, already enjoy 300 Mbps down. Until recently, there were very few places in the Adirondacks with speeds of 100 Mbps, let alone speeds equal to South Korea’s. In today’s world, access to high-speed broadband is an economic necessity. For example, Wall Street investment funds and banks must have speeds thousands of times faster because nanoseconds of download time can be the difference between huge profit and loss.
If you are curious, go to this link now and measure your own download speed. It’s good to do it two or three times as speed can vary.
August 15 is the deadline for the third and probably final round of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New New York Broadband Program. Cuomo, with legislative support, established the program in 2015 with the ambitious goal of providing access to high-speed broadband to 100 percent of New Yorkers by the end of 2018.
In phase one of Cuomo’s program, the state distributed more than $54 million to enhance internet speed. The North Country secured about $6 million in phase one and a little over $31 million of the $211 million awarded in phase two. However, since there are still many households in the North Country lacking access to high-speed broadband, it is imperative that our county and town officials work closely with all interested providers to ensure that the providers submit the most robust phase three applications possible.
“Franklin County, which got NO funding in rounds one and two of the New New York Program, is determined to get a good chunk in round three,” said my friend Barbara Rice, chair of the Franklin County Legislature. Applications for Franklin County projects will hopefully fare well in the grant chase because it has some of the greatest unmet broadband need in the North Country, indeed, the state.
“Broadband provides connections for our first responders and health-care providers, and from a social standpoint it allows communication with family and friends. The Franklin County Legislature views broadband expansion as a necessity and we are pushing hard to ensure we aren’t left out of this final phase of funding,” says Barb.
“Based on what I’ve been hearing, Spectrum [formerly Time Warner Cable] our biggest provider, is not planning to apply in round three bidding” she said.
However, Franklin County is working with Slic Network Solutions and Mohawk Networks. Mohawk provides internet service to the Akwesasne reservation and casino and is interested in bidding to extend service to the mostly flat and rural areas at the northern end of Franklin County. The wireless technology provided by Mohawk will not work in the more mountainous areas at the southern end of the county, as any cell-phone owner knows. Slic installs fiber technology to homes, which could serve the southern part of the county.
Rice said Franklin County also is considering ways it could provide bridge funding to entice small providers to apply for projects in Franklin County. The state grants pay off only when projects are complete, which would not be a problem for a huge company like Verizon, but can be a big hurdle for small companies who must lay out large cash sums up front and wait for reimbursement.
I would encourage everyone to contact their local town and county officials and ask them to work with their local providers to ensure that every county in the North Country is working as hard as Franklin to go after this state money.