October 23, 2021

Brindisi releases broadband survey data

man with internet devices

Metro

No, you’re not imagining that slow internet speed, show data from a study on broadband in the 22nd Congressional District.

“New York’s 22nd Congressional District is home to the slowest speeds of any region in New York state,” Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) said Monday during a conference call where he unveiled data from his broadband survey. A Microsoft study shows that fewer than half the people in Cortland County have broadband access than Federal Communications Commission data indicate.

Nearly 1,200 people responded to Brindisi’s request last winter to test the speed of their broadband and fill out a survey on their service.


Brindisi’s proposals

Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) suggested four ways to expand broadband access:

  • Make sure the Federal Communications Commission collects better data in order to make more well-informed decisions on where funding should go.
  • Have federal agencies work with state and local agencies to help create broadband infrastructure in underserved areas, and closely monitor cable and internet providers to ensure they “fulfilling their obligations.” n Increase oversight of internet service providers who use money from the government to ensure they deliver the internet speeds and service they said they would, Brindisi said. n Increase market competition so people can get better prices.

The results yielded no surprises, said Darren “Hal” McCabe, the executive director of the state Legislative Commission on Rural Resources, which has been looking at how to effectively expand broadband in rural upstate New York.

“The pandemic has exposed the weakness in internet access, especially in rural New York, where students are at a massive disadvantage compared to their peers with broadband,” he said in an email Monday afternoon. “Employees who were suddenly expected to be able to work from home were unable to do so in the same way as their co-workers with proper internet access. It only takes a few Zoom calls where the presenter is trying to limp through with satellite internet to know that it is simply not a realistic alternative to true wired or at the very least, cellular, access.”

The town of Homer, which includes the village of Homer, where McCabe is the mayor, has some of the slowest speeds in the district, along with Marathon, the data show. The village of McGraw and town of DeRuyter were listed as having some of the fastest speeds in the greater Cortland area.

“So many people in Washington don’t understand what it’s like in rural America,” Brindisi said. “I hear cable companies bragging about 5G access in big cities, but the truth is rural areas are being left behind.”

Part of the issue the FCC said, is that it doesn’t have accurate data on what areas have access to broadband, he said.

“Our maps do not accurately reflect what people experience when they live in a community and as a result FCC data suggests broadband is in many more places than it truly is in this country,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, an FCC commissioner.

She said that the FCC measures access to broadband by using census blocks in the state. So, if one person in a census block has access to broadband it is counted as everyone having access.

“In places like New York state, census blocks can be really big areas of hundreds of square miles and if we make an assumption that a single subscriber in that census block has service, therefore everyone does, we are radically overstating the presence of broadband and that’s a problem because every community needs high speed service to have a fair shot at 21st century success,” she said. “That was true before this pandemic and it will be true after.”

According to the survey data, the FCC claims that 92% of people in the district have access to broadband, but one Microsoft study shows only 40% of people actually do. In Cortland County, the FCC said 87.2% had access, but Microsoft said it was only 34.1%.

Rosenworcel said limited access to broadband can be even more detrimental as the state copes with the coronavirus and getting kids access to education and giving parents and others the ability to work from home.

In Dryden, town Supervisor Jason Leifer said 20% to 25% of kids in the Dryden Central School District don’t have access to the internet.

“We have to do something about that,” he said.

And the town is. Although Dryden lies in the 23rd Congressional District, the town has faced the same broadband issues as Cortland County. Last year, the town began moving forward with the idea of creating its own broadband service.

Dryden’s municipal broadband project is expected to cost $14.5 million and would extend fiber optic cable across the town.

Leifer said the town has applied for $1 million through the U.S. Department of Agriculture ReConnect program to begin funding the project. It is also looking at other grants.

Building the network could take five to six years, although the phases may be accelerated, Leifer said.

“We want to build it more quickly than the plans call for,” he said. “Right now the goal is to still start building part of this next year.”