A new opportunity to bring broadband to rural areas

Print More

The June 26 announcement that New York has been allocated nearly $665 million in federal funding for improvements in broadband availability was hailed by Gov. Kathy Hochul as “transformative.”

“(It) will be a gamechanger in advancing our statewide strategy to make affordable, high-speed internet available to all,” Hochul said. “In today’s economy, reliable broadband access is an absolute necessity.”

In an analysis released late last week, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli agreed that the funding will give “the state an opportunity to accelerate universal deployment of the highest-speed connections in every corner of the state.” He added, however, that success requires more than money alone—how New York uses the federal funding will “set a critical path for its digital future.”

The new funds come the federal Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program, part of the bipartisan Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act. The 2021 law authorized more than $46 billion for broadband initiatives, with BEAD receiving $42.45 billion. The program’s primary goal is to spur broadband deployment in unserved and underserved locations.

The BEAD allocations were based on the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband mapping, which showed 140,000 unserved locations and nearly 38,000 underserved locations in New York.

Before it can receive the BEAD funding, New York must develop a five-year action plan that includes a comprehensive needs assessment and outlines other factors such as key strategies, barriers to successful implementation, and a stakeholder engagement process. The action plan must be submitted by September.

The next step, due in December, is submission of a detailed initial proposal that covers areas such as how the money will be used, project timelines, and oversight and accountability mechanisms. When the initial proposal is approved, the state will receive 20 percent of its BEAD allocation.

The deadline for submission of the state’s final plan is one year after the initial proposal is approved. The remaining funds will arrive after the final version is approved.

New York’s ConnectALL Office, established in 2022, will take the lead in creating the state’s five-year action plan and initial proposal.

A 2021 report by comptroller’s office showed that New York ranked second nationwide with 98.7 percent of its population living in areas served with broadband in 2019. But, DiNapoli notes in his new analysis, the FCC data on which the earlier report was based had several flaws. In particular, it used a methodology that overstated coverage, especially in rural areas.

The shortcomings led to new efforts, including New York’s Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act of 2021 and the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection program in 2022. The New York act directed the Public Service Commission to develop its own broadband map, which was released in June 2022. It identified more than 31,000 missing or underserved locations not included in the FCC broadband data.

“These efforts have resulted in greater precision at the local level (in the revised FCC data),” DiNapoli says.

Most of the Rochester region is served by fixed broadband, the FCC’s National Broadband Map shows, with coverage exceeding 90 percent in some locations. But in certain areas—for example, east of Webster and west of Hamlin—coverage drops precipitously, in some cases falling to zero.

Fixed broadband is defined as fiber, cable, DSL, or satellite connections coverage with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second.

The FCC map also shows mobile internet coverage. In contrast to fixed broadband, nearly all of Greater Rochester has 100 percent mobile coverage.

Federal efforts to increase broadband access are not new, but they increased dramatically after COVID-19 struck. The pandemic “exposed the struggles many families experienced when work, school, health care, and commerce were thrust into an online environment and emphasized that reliable, high-speed internet is imperative for equality of opportunity,” DiNapoli says.

The $664.8 million in BEAD funds announced June 26 comes in addition to initial federal COVID relief efforts. Combined, DiNapoli says, the federal government has allocated a total of $1.6 billion in broadband funding for New York.

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *