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Steve Israel: Broadband for all NYers in 2018?

Not so fast

Steve Israel column sig

Gov. Andrew Cuomo vows that “by 2018 every New Yorker will have access to high-speed internet.”

You know what the Town of Bethel’s Susan Harte says to that?

“Cuomo’s touted plan about everyone having broadband is a bunch of bull — that only happens if the cable companies agree to participate in the subsidy program — they are not forced to in any way.”

Harte, who sent me that email after my column about Sullivan County’s woeful cell service, should know. Her home is, like mine, one of 2,441 households in the county not wired for high-speed broadband or access to it, according to state statistics. That’s 5 percent of all households in Sullivan — or about 6,100 people without access, or a current commitment to that access. Not only is that pathetic for a county climbing out of the economic doldrums, it’s even worse when compared to our wired neighbors. In Orange, only 0.4 percent of all households are without access or that commitment to access. In Ulster, the number is 2 percent.

And despite Cuomo’s promise, there’s no guarantee those thousands of wireless residents will have high-speed broadband in 2018. Here’s what the assistant press secretary for the state’s Empire State Development said last week.

“Our goal is to provide it (access to broadband) by the end of 2018,” Madeline Belloff said. “We understand some of this buildup will take longer, so commitments will be made by the end of 2018.”

So even though millions of state dollars have been available for companies to match for broadband expansion, and even though the state mandated that Charter Communications provide broadband access to 145,000 homes at no charge as a condition for its merger with Time Warner Cable, thousands of us remain unconnected. That’s because, as Harte says, those companies must agree to participate in the program.

The deadline for the third and final round for companies to submit proposals is Aug.

15. Round two provided access to 108 Sullivan homes. After round three?

“We will put commitments in place for building in places like yours,” Belloff told me. Do I even need to say how essential high-speed internet is for Sullivan? The county is ripe for growth since we’re less than two hours from the greatest city in the world.

Children need it to do their homework. Folks looking to move or open businesses here won’t relocate without it. That’s why real estate people say the lack of high-speed internet service tops the list of issues for folks looking to relocate in Sullivan.

Melissa Easton of the Town of Delaware knows all of this. Like Harte and me, she lives off one of the county’s major roads — Route 17B — and isn’t wired. Not only does it hurt her industrial design business, her journalist husband couldn’t participate in online consulting meetings because he couldn’t connect with Skype.

“If you want the community to thrive, it’s a necessity,” Easton says.

Cuomo knows that.

“Broadband is today what electricity was nearly a century ago — essential to creating economic opportunity, driving innovation and an absolute necessity for our way of life,” he has said. But until broadband is regulated like electricity, no one can force companies to wire unwired areas like Sullivan. So we must pressure our local, county, state and federal officials to find some way — any way — to connect us to the rest of the world.

To tell the state you need high-speed internet, and to learn when and if you’ll be connected, go to ana.rua@esd.ny.gov.

steveisrael53@outlook.com

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