The history of railroads, roadways, electricity, telephone, and cell phones all tell the same story: rural and small-town regions like New York State’s 21st Congressional District wait for their turn for service. Broadband internet access is no different: keep waiting, your time will come. But the problem now is the speed of change. Waiting for a decade in the 1830s for the railroad or even in the early 2000’s for cell phone coverage did not exclude us from participating in the life of the nation. But now, a few more years without broadband internet service may alter our economy and life for generations. For small businesses to succeed and young people to remain in our region, we need broadband. We cannot wait.
Rural and small-town regions in the United States often do not have adequate broadband services. It is estimated that it would take $40-80 billion to provide these services.1
The total spent by the Federal Government for rural broadband is about $5 billion per year.2 The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the main Federal Government agency responsible for promoting broadband services. The FCC does this through the “Connect America” program. The United States Department of Agriculture and other programs also contribute. These programs are often criticized for wasteful spending which does not produce results for our communities and lack of proper evaluation.3 The recent use of “auctions” by the FCC has helped.4
Lack of funding is one obvious issue, but there are other non-financial obstacles.
In 2015, Verizon declined a $170 million award for Upstate New York that it had won in a bid from the FCC. Verizon made a corporate decision not to provide this type of service. The FCC planned to return that money into the general fund, and only the work of Governor Cuomo, Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, and Representative Collins saved it for our region.5 Despite their effort and ultimate success, valuable time was lost because the FCC needed to be pushed into taking the right action.
The FCC has proposed using a slower rate of service as an acceptable level. This change will make their results map look good, but will hurt families, students, and small businesses seeking modern internet access.6
The FCC spends considerable effort in evaluating Broadband providers. A visit to their website shows detailed studies of the speed and reliability of the various companies (all fast and reliable). In the 21st Congressional district, our issue is not the speed or reliability of established providers; it is getting our homes and small businesses hooked into the fiber networks. This problem is the “last mile” of service. In cities, this step is easy. For us, this vital step is hard. The FCC can help us by using the “last mile” as a goal and supporting research into “last mile” technologies.
The 21st Congressional District of New York State needs the Federal Government to support rural broadband. Many of these actions do not require new legislation, but an aggressive representation of our needs and interests.