To the editor:
Broadband has been my major focus this past year. Because of insufficient broadband, our children have limited access to educational resources; business folks can’t initiate new businesses; and 30% of telemedicine calls fail because families, seniors and Vets lack reliable connections. Many of our families can’t get online services.
Here’s what I’ve worked on to build out broadband for our district, county, and region, specifically focusing on mapping areas with underserved broadband, applying for grant funding and identifying hurdles to rural broadband buildout.
In Franklin County, we mapped where folks are unserved/underserved for broadband. With a coalition of town supervisors and town board members, we verified recent broadband enhancement efforts. Through the Empire Broadband Survey, we identified North Country locations needing broadband enhancements. Franklin County was the second-highest in its response rate out of 62 counties. My thanks to you for taking the survey online.
Franklin County cell service and broadband mapping, led by the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board, should be completed in April.
Mapping is the important first step for obtaining grants to fund broadband buildout. I worked with the North Country Broadband Alliance (an alliance of six counties and four providers) to write a federal grant for broadband buildout. I am working with providers and private businesses to identify broadband projects and write grants.
The New York state budget is calling for $1.6 billion funding of NY State Broadband ConnectAll buildout. Federal Congressional direct spending is also being pursued for projects.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has called for exempting burdensome fees on ConnectAll buildouts, especially the state Department of Transportation fee for installers who build fiber optic broadband cables in a state-controlled highway right-of-way. This is good. Every dollar spent on DOT fees does not go to building out broadband.
These fees have stymied or drastically slowed buildouts in Franklin County with its predominantly rural and mountainous areas. Anything that adds costs to expanding or operating a rural broadband network along a state right-of-way, especially in an area with low population density, will make it even harder to make broadband available to these remaining areas of rural unserved/underserved.
The DOT fees on state-controlled highways have impacted our rural and mountainous area disproportionately. State routes are a blessing for our community’s physical connectivity, yet they limit broadband buildout. Of the 26 Franklin County towns and villages, 20 have state routes going down their center. For example, in the town of Franklin (population 1,140) split by state Route 3, 440 homes/businesses are unserved/underserved.
The DOT fees limit the smaller, nimbler providers and larger providers as well from building-out projects involving state routes.
Please contact the governor and your state legislators in support of the broadband budget and repealing the DOT fee. And again, thanks for taking the broadband survey. Now we have the data to write broadband buildout grants!
Melinda “Lindy” Ellis
Franklin County legislator, representing the towns of Franklin and Harrietstown