A statewide $25 million project to expand high-speed internet access in rural New York through the Connect NY Broadband Grant Program is welcome news.
The project includes $2.1 million to provide high-speed, low-cost broadband service to 457 households in the unserved areas of Schroon and North Hudson. The service will be delivered utilizing fiber to the home technology.
Also included is $557,000 for Essex County broadband service expansion. That money will provide high-speed broadband service to households that do not have access in Jay and Wilmington, passing 1,900 homes. The project will also provide digital video services and potentially a competitive telephone service.
Statewide the projects will build approximately 6,000 square miles of new infrastructure and will provide high-speed internet service to 153,000 New York households, 8,000 businesses and 400 community anchor institutions.
While internet use has become the norm, it’s still not available in many areas. High-speed service, normally provided through cable companies, typically stops where cable television service ends. That means hundreds of rural areas remain without high-speed internet access.
High-speed internet expansion is crucial for the North Country, which faces the “digital divide.” The term was coined by sociologists to describe a split in American society between those with access to readily available information and those who do not. Most agree, people without access to the internet are at a disadvantage.
Information and communication technologies are vital in today’s world, just as reading was centuries ago. Internet access can impact education, economic equality, social mobility and a host of other issues. Today’s students need the internet. Most employment applications are now found on line. Facebook, Twitter and other internet social media dominate today’s society.
Internet access also benefits entire communities. It can lead to a healthier democracy through increased public participation in elections and decision making processes. It can also foster economic development and growth.
Bridging the “digital divide” is necessary in a democratic society, otherwise the United States runs the risk of becoming a nation of “haves” and “have nots.” The Connect NY Broadband Grant Program should be lauded for its efforts.
But there’s work to be done. Even after the announcement in March of 18 Connect NY Broadband Grant Program projects, many rural areas will remain without high-speed internet. The state awarded $25 million for internet expansion, but $89 million was requested. That left many North Country communities still lagging. Let’s hope the Connect NY Broadband Grant Program continues until all of New York has the internet access it needs.