Last year a federal court ruled that access to broadband was as essential as electricity, and I agree. Studies show that broadband access and home computers correlate positively to higher academic achievement, better test scores and college admission.
Businesses of all sizes and industries are increasingly relying on cloud based software and infrastructure to do everything from managing inventory to serving their customers and employees. Data from Strategic Networks Digital Economy Database indicates broadband access enabled more than 40% of the new jobs created since 2013. Without broadband, our businesses simply can’t compete with companies that do have access.
In short, broadband internet access is indispensable in the modern age and we need to ensure that all of our students, families and businesses have access to it.
There is a well-documented “digital divide” between rural and urban areas when it comes to broadband access. As of 2015, 74 percent of households in urban areas of the U.S. had residential broadband connections, compared with only 64 percent of rural households. Upstate New York is in serious need of rural broadband to ensure that 21st century jobs and economic opportunity can compete and thrive in the region.
The private sector is not positioned to solve this problem on its own. Like other maturing industries, the internet provider marketplace has evolved in recent years with larger players gaining scale advantage over local providers. But as was the case with rural electricity providers before them, these large providers are not placing a priority on providing access to rural areas where it is less profitable to invest in the necessary infrastructure to serve smaller, geographically dispersed markets.
Instead, our large providers prefer to serve rural markets with wireless service – which is an inadequate solution since today’s wireless technology does not deliver sufficient bandwidth or reliability to meet commercial broadband standards.
If we want our rural areas to thrive, we must go beyond politics to deploy incentives and solutions that encourage broadband providers to expand their coverage to all areas of the state.
In addition to rural broadband, there are two other underserved segments presenting opportunity to accelerate significant change:
70% of Upstate schools lack broadband access at 100Mbs level – the minimum bandwidth needed to deploy a campus wide infrastructure essential for advancing a digital curriculum.
Municipal provided Wi-Fi networks present an increasingly attractive path to power economic development and transformative opportunity for lower income inner city residents.
Here’s what we need to focus on to make sure everyone in upstate NY has access to broadband:
As major telecoms and cable companies expand with requests requiring government approval (e.g. spectrum purchase, new line or tower construction etc.), require specific commitments on wiring broadband access to underserved rural communities.
Explore funding mechanisms that work not just for the dominant national telecom and cable providers, but also our local telephone and cable companies who are closer to the customer in our underserved rural markets.
Track progress in rural broadband to report underserved areas having greatest needs and opportunities.
Support Federal funding to supplement New York State resources and oversight provided through NY Broadband for All program
Encourage public private partnership to develop incentives for broadband providers to equip local schools with 100Mbs+ broadband access
Share best practices and develop incentives that encourage use of municipal Wi-Fi deployment as an avenue to accelerate both economic development and empowering inner city lower income residents.
Remove remaining obstacles that discourage investment such as municipal roadblocks that limit access to public infrastructure or make it difficult to deploy new wireless cells; and get the FCC to relinquish more wireless spectrum to the commercial sector (today the government controls some 60% of the best airwaves)
As a member of Congress, I will work with any and all interested parties to bring rural broadband not just to every corner of the 22nd Congressional district, but to all of Upstate NY. Access to broadband will ensure our students have the ability to compete in the new global economy and will ensure our entrepreneurs have the ability to develop new companies and jobs, especially in our modern innovation industries, right here in Upstate NY.