(TNS) — Regional leaders in the telecommunication industry gathered at the State University of New York SUNY Cobleskill on Wednesday to discuss a federal package to fund broadband expansion.
They were brought to together by U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, in the hopes of drafting a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture ahead of the Sept. 10 deadline, when comments close.
Rural Utilities Services, an arm of the USDA, invited comments on the implementation of the e-Connectivity Pilot, a $600 million federal grant program to service underserved rural and tribal populations in the U.S.
Faso asked for input from industry stakeholders in the 19th Congressional District for the letter, he said, to make sure that New York "is on the ground floor" of this pilot program. He anticipates this to be only the first round of an expanded pilot.
“We don't want to sit out this round,” Faso said.
New York state dedicated $500 million in its Broadband For All initiative that began in 2015, and stakeholders worry that New York may get shortchanged in this federal funding phase, despite still needing additional resources.
While New York has expanded broadband access, there are still pockets of communities that are not covered.
The stakeholders, seven in all, spoke of the challenges and successes of rural telecommunications in New York state. Issues with data, mapping and cost affect rural areas, where it is not only expensive to build infrastructure, but also to maintain.
The consensus was that budgets should be allocated to each state and that funding should be put toward more accurate mapping and reporting to understand the scope of coverage and correct outdated data. Tim Johnson, chief executive officer of Otsego Electric Cooperative, suggested that “factors of service,” including affordability, latency, speed and capacity, should be criteria in the federal application process. Many in the roundtable discussion agreed.
Jason Miller of Delhi Telephone Company said that New York's standard is 50-100 megabits, abbreviated to mbps, while the federal recommendation is 10-25 mbps, which members agreed is shortsighted.
As Internet use increases, lower-capacity infrastructure will require another major upgrade in 10 years.
Miller said that in 2016, the average household has eight connected devices. By 2020, that number is projected to increase to 14.
“Ten mbps can't support that,” Miller said.
Stakeholders added that telemedicine, an advancing field, will need greater speeds. With the number of people working remotely, broadband is a necessity to keep and attract residents, Faso said.
As the country relies more on the Internet, the question of broadband access is more than one of convenience. Faso said that if the region is to combat population decline and an economic downturn, it must address its technological impediments.
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