(TNS) New York state would become a national — and perhaps global — leader in high-speed broadband Internet availability within four years through a $500 million incentive plan unveiled by the Cuomo administration on Friday.
The plan, which would match spending on high-speed Internet networks by private companies dollar-for-dollar, would seek universal high-speed broadband access for all New Yorkers by 2019.
Cuomo administration officials said the $1 billion program is the largest ever proposed by any state.
"This is a truly bold undertaking that will improve the lives of New Yorkers in every corner of the state, and I am proud to make it a priority of our administration's second-term agenda," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.
The money offered to telecommunications businesses such as cable TV and telephone companies would come from a fund of $5 billion gained in settlements with financial institutions by the state.
The companies would have to build networks capable of a minimum of 100 megabits per second — speeds that most New Yorkers have never experienced — to get the money.
In the most under-served areas, 25 mbps would be allowed as long as it could be scaled up eventually to 100 Mbps.
New York state, which has provided $70 million in incentives to broadband companies to expand their networks in recent years, lags its neighbors in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut when it comes to average broadband Internet speeds. Delaware leads the nation with average connection speeds of just 17 mbps and peak connection speeds of 75 Mbps, according to a Jan. 8 report by Akamai Technologies of Cambridge, Mass.
New York state is nowhere to be found in the list of top ten states for broadband speeds, according to the Akamai report, although it does rank high in another list with 47 percent of the population having access to Internet speeds of 10 Mbps or faster.
In general, 6 mbps is the standard for what's considered high-speed "broadband" Internet service, although policy-makers believe that speed is actually much slower than what is needed in today's economy.
Faster Internet speeds allow users to download videos and other media quicker and send and receive data faster. A movie that would take less than a minute to download at 100 mbps would take nearly an hour and a half at 6 mbps. The most widespread high-speed Internet service in the region is in Schenectady and Albany counties, where both Verizon and Time Warner Cable have competing residential fiber-optic Internet offerings. A large segment of the population there can pay for 100 mbps Internet service, although it is still less than half of the households, according to the NYS Broadband Program Office.
In Rensselaer and Saratoga counties, where Verizon's FiOS fiber optic network has not been installed, there is no residential Internet service that is 100 mbps or faster.
And just a short drive farther out in places like Columbia and Greene counties that are served mostly by small regional phone and cable TV companies, more than 70 percent of the population doesn't have access to even 6 mbps service.
That is the case across upstate, where the lack of a dense customer base in rural areas makes installing fiber-optic networks needed for high-speed Internet too expensive to make money. Unlike gas, electric and telephone services, Internet is not considered a universal utility by regulators, and providers will only build where they can make a profit.
"New York state is a global leader in the development of next-generation technologies, and high speed Internet accessibility is vital to continued growth and innovation," said Alain Kaloyeros, president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany. "This greater level of connectivity will further incentivize economic development opportunities at our statewide technology hubs and significantly expand the reach and breadth of SUNY Poly's distance learning resources."
©2015 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)