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Washington County, N.Y., Nears Conducting Broadband Survey

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo declined to sign legislation to require the state to conduct a survey identifying high-speed broadband access troublespots, Washington County moved closer to conducting a study of its own.

by Chad Arnold, The Post-Star / February 16, 2021

(TNS) — Two weeks after Gov. Andrew Cuomo declined to sign legislation that would have required the state to conduct a survey identifying where access to high-speed broadband was lagging, Washington County on Thursday moved a step closer to conducting a similar study of its own.

The county's Finance Committee approved a $15,000 spending request to hire ECC Technologies, a Rochester-area telecommunications company, to conduct a map survey and Internet speed test to determine what roads have fiber Internet lines running along them and whether already existing Internet service meets the standard for high-speed service of download speeds of 25 megabits per second.

The study will cost $30,000, with the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board covering half the costs using a portion of CARES Act funding received last year.

The request is expected to be approved by full Board of Supervisors at its monthly meeting on Friday.

Laura Oswald, the county's director of economic development, said the study is necessary since some broadband providers, including Verizon and Spectrum, have refused to provide information on where their fiber lines are located, making it impossible to determine where gaps in service exist.

Data collected during the survey will determine where existing fiber lines can be extended and allow the county to apply for various grants needed to extend service into underserved areas, Oswald said.

"The only way that we are going to be in a position to start applying for those funds, or to encourage providers to apply for those funds, is if we understand specifically where we do and do not have Internet," she said.

Surveyors will traverse 1,200 miles of roads in the county to check markings on utility poles, which indicate what type of utility runs along the poles.

The county was in the early stages of conducting a similar study in 2014, but pulled back after Cuomo announced his Broadband for All initiative, a $500 million program that promised to bring high-speed Internet access to 99% of New Yorkers.

But with work nearing completion, Oswald said it's clear the county, which received just under $25 million for the program, is nowhere near the promised 99%.

"We're all aware that through the governor's Broadband for All program that the notion that we are 99% covered by high-speed Internet throughout the county is likely inaccurate," she said.

State lawmakers, last year, approved legislation that would have required the state's Public Service Commission to study the availability, affordability and reliability of Internet service in all parts of the state and draft a report and detail map on its findings within one year.

The Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act never received the governor's signature, however, killing the legislation.

A spokesman for Cuomo said he didn't act on the bill due to the $3 million price tag, but noted a similar proposal would be included in the governor's budget proposal.

Millions of dollars have been set aside to bolster the state's broadband initiatives in the governor's executive budget, including a proposal that would guarantee high-speed Internet access to low-income families for just $15 a month.

But how much of what the governor has proposed will be included in the final budget remains to be seen.

Lawmakers have until April 1 to pass a final budget.

Still, Washington County is planning to put itself in position to take advantage of whatever funding may become available in order to continue building out its broadband services, Oswald said.

"I don't expect it to happen overnight, but we have to start with the information of what we have where," she said.

(c)2021 The Post Star, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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