Cortland and Tompkins county officials said Friday they supported a part of the recently enacted state budget requiring internet service providers to offer $15 a month service to qualifying low-income households, but said internet service in rural areas would need to improve as well.
The announcement came after the $212 billion budget was adopted Wednesday.
“It would be a very important thing for the people in my district,” said Cortland County Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford,Virgil). Internet access is a crucial part of everyday life, especially during the pandemic with people working or doing school from home.
Access to reliable and fast internet in her district, though, can be a challenge, with internet not accessible in some areas, she added. “It really is a problem for people who need or want the internet.”
One man in Price’s district travels to a rented office in Dryden each day to work, as his internet connection at home is too slow, she said.
Cortland County Legislator Joe Nauseef (U-Cortlandville) said he supported the measure too — especially as it would benefit rural families with school-age children — but that there was “still work that needs to be done in the rural areas in the county” to provide access.
Nauseef said internet service providers in the town were Spectrum, Verizon Fios and two smaller providers.
“It would be nice to have more diversity there,” Nauseef said.
Additionally, he noted the farther one gets from Cortland, the harder it can be to get reliable internet access because the providers don’t focus on smaller, rural areas.
The town of Dryden, which is working to create a municipal broadband service, wouldn’t have to offer $15 internet on its own service because municipal- owned broadband was not included as part of the legislation but the town might want to as a way to expand Dan Lamb.
“We want to provide broadband to every household,” he said. “This removes one more barrier.”
About 5 to 10% of the town lacks sufficient high-speed broadband access, Lamb said. This means speeds of less than 25 megabits per second.
Lamb said the town is working to create the municipal broadband service with speeds of 100 Mbps, which would better support telehealth services, streaming and handling multiple devices in a household being used at the same time. Installing a municipal broadband service would be a way to reduce the number of people without internet or without a good internet connection.
The costs for the service might be somewhere between $50 to $60 a month for non-low-income subscribers, Lamb said but following the legislation would allow for qualifying low-income families to get it for $15 a month.
Having a strong municipal service, though, would depend on people subscribing.
“Higher speeds are needed now and are going to be needed in the future,” he said.