Monroe County takes a step to bridge digital divide

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Monroe County is polling residents in low-income and rural areas to assess broadband access and barriers to going online.

In partnership with Magellan Advisors and the Monroe County Broadband Advisory Task Force, the county hopes to gather information to fix digital disparities.

“Nearly one-fifth of city households and one-third (of) rural households do not have access to high speed internet. In the year 2022, that is unacceptable,” says Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “This survey is two-fold as it will identify the barriers and locations that prevent access to affordable high-speed internet and help us structure a plan to provide quality internet access to all of our residents.”

Bello expects better access to high-speed broadband also will attract new businesses to the region, drive economic growth, support education and strengthen the community.

While physical copies of the survey will be available at Monroe County libraries, the advisory task force recommends that residents fill out the survey online with a laptop or computer directly plugged into their home or business network router. An internet speed test will be performed.

If a smartphone is the only online connection, the county suggests connecting it to WiFi and not using cellular data while completing the survey. Residents are encouraged to take the poll at peak internet use periods between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.

“High-speed internet is important in bridging the digital divide,” says Monroe County Legislature President Sabrina LaMar, a member of the Monroe County Advisory Task Force on Broadband. “Students from the lower end of the economic spectrum, especially in the City of Rochester, are often further disadvantaged because of the lack of access to high-quality internet access. This causes them to fall further behind their suburban counterparts.”

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed these problems—especially when schools and businesses had to operate remotely. In the Rochester-Finger Lakes region, the digital divide is evident. In 2019, census data show, an estimated 92 percent of households in metropolitan Rochester had a computer and 86 percent had broadband internet. But regionwide, only 67 percent of households with less than $20,000 in annual income had broadband service; in the city, the share was 61 percent.

Monroe County’s efforts are in line with initiatives at the state and federal levels. Last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the launch of a $10 million ConnectALL four-county model project to bring affordable broadband internet access to rural New Yorkers, as part of the state’s $1 billion ConnectALL initiative. ConnectALL aims to expand broadband access, affordability and equity statewide using public and private investments. 

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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