The $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package spends $358 million to improve broadband internet access in New York, but Cortland County doesn’t expect much help.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Monday that $23.8 billion was secured in direct aid as part of a COVID relief bill to assist New York state and local governments. A statewide broadband network will be funded by $358 million allocated through the stimulus package.
However, questions surrounding the network coverage and accessibility remain.
“Unfortunately, we have answers to none of those questions,” said Darren “Hal” McCabe, the Director of the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources for the New York State Senate. “I don’t have high hopes, we already spent $500 million and barely made a dent, so that money will go very quickly.”
According to data last year from then-Rep. Anthony Brindisi, 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%.
McCabe, who is also the mayor of Homer, is unsure how much influence the Legislature is able to exert on how and where the money is spent.
“Unfortunately, the governor believes we (Cortland County) have 99% coverage and for him to reverse course and start installing fiber into the areas only served by HughesNet would be admitting that indeed we did not have 99% coverage,” McCabe said. “He can see the funding being used in more urban areas where there are still massive access issues.
Dryden — which has funded its own broadband network and applied for a $3 million grant from the USDA — is unsure if it will receive any additional funding from the bill, said town Deputy Supervisor Dan Lamb. About 10% of the town lacks broadband access.
“We’re looking at a model that involves bonding,” Lamb said. “We would borrow less and pay back those bonds (with state funding).”
The good thing about having this project ready is that when the money becomes available, it will be a more sound investment for agencies to make, Lamb said.
“The more we can get, the quicker we can start looking for people to supply fiber,” said town Supervisor Jason Leifer.
In a meeting Thursday with Schumer, the senator gave criteria about how counties can utilize stimulus funding, Lamb said, but discussion surrounding broadband was limited.
“There will be $10 billion in additional funding for broadband in general (nationwide),” Lamb said. “The money will be distributed through various agencies.”
Some of these agencies include programs that Dryden intends to apply for, Lamb said.
Within a week, the town board plans to have a designated broadband committee.