Cuomo Fails To Provide Broadband For All Residents Of New York State

With great fan fair and good intensions in January 2016 Gov. Cuomo announced “Broadband for All” by 2018. The governor had a windfall of money from one-time fines levied against financial firms and brokerages, for their hand in the 2008-09 financial collapse. The “Broadband for All” plan was dearly needed and launched with good intent, it made sense to invest one time revenue funds, for one time infrastructure projects, that would pay dividends well into the future. If only more of those funds were spent that way as opposed to being sunk in the black pit that is New York State’s General Fund, but I digress.

$500 million was the sum approved for the matching funds grant program. This was more than enough to bring broadband sufficiency to all, but instead the money was used almost exclusively to fund build outs that were already on the schedule and already cost justified without being subsidized.

Projects that truly could not pay for themselves on their own went begging, made worse by the fact that strings attached to the money made it impractical for many rural providers to even consider taking the money. It was like insisting that in order to qualify for the money you had to build a superhighway. For urban areas where it is like adding a lane, it was an easy task. However, for rural areas, with virtually no underlying infrastructure, they might as well have been asked to land a man on the moon. As a result of this, several cash strapped providers in marginal markets chose not to take any of the matching funds.

The result … here we are in 2018 with a greater disparity between the well served customer, and the under served customer than existed when the program was launched in 2016. Many densely populated urban areas enjoy blazing internet while rural communities have seen no improvement at all. You can’t call it internet in rural areas, my wife calls it “Intermittentnet”. 1/3 of the time we are not able to connect at all.

Nearly everyone has a cell phone. Even with 4G LTE at every cell, and even 5 G in some places, cell coverage is not universal. Even if you can make calls, which is not everywhere, there are vast expanses with little or no data service. Cellular data is restricted by bad weather, or times of high volume.

Satellite internet, although available everywhere, is expensive, and similarly limited by weather and volume, but the deal breaker for satellite is the signal latency (three second delay) which is incompatible with most two way communications applications. For a long time to come, hard wired or fiber access, will be the only alternative in rural areas. Only a fraction of the broadband NY funds went to rural areas where the service is needed most.

Without getting too technical, internet speed is measured in megabits per second, it is directly analogous to the speedometer on a car. The Gov. promised a minimum speed of 25 with the goal of 50 what we have as a result is many areas with access to 100 and even 1000 while other areas are continuing to struggle with 1-3 intermittently.

This is like being forced to walk everywhere you want to go and only at random times when conditions are just right. While everyone in the city has a car with roads that never slow down below 25 and where 50 or 100 are the norm.

If making the speed disparity worse were not bad enough, the Gov. is cooking the books as to how he reports his “success”. The metric of success is service by “Census Block”. Again without getting too technical, census blocks are geographic areas comprised of between 600 and 3000 people. In the City, this may in fact be one city block, or even one building, but in rural areas these may be dozens of square miles.

In the city this makes sense, the likelihood of service disparity within one block is unlikely and where it exists is relatively easy to address. However in the country where high speed internet may be available only along a main road, while leaving vast areas of that block only with access to Intermittentnet. In rural areas the census block metric makes no sense at all. As long as one subscriber in that census block is receiving high speed internet, as far as the governor is concerned the program is successful.

It is interesting that sense its inception the program has migrated from Broadband for All by 2018 to Broadband for All by the end of 2018. Instead it should be “Better Broadband for Select Few who Already had Pretty Good Internet Service”. Maybe we should rethink spending $500 million on that. Not surprisingly the time clock has been extended beyond the next New York State Gubernatorial election. Hard to call it a failure if there is still time left on the clock.

The problem is all the money has been spent. Some projects are still in the works, but very many New York state residents and businesses will not have any better internet access at the end of 2018 than they did in 2015. Windstream, for one, took none of the matching funds and have no projects on the books to improve services in grossly under served areas. How many other service providers are similarly unresponsive due to the Governor’s malfeasance in administering a $500 million program and failing to administer utility franchise monopoly agreements in the state. It is tough to say, they don’t tout their failures any more than our Governor touts his.

One could hope that another round of funding or a new Public Service Commission could turn this issue around, but neither are in the works. New York is facing a four Billion dollar deficit thanks to Governor Cuomo squandering billions from finance industry fines, and continuing to spend beyond what New York can afford.

Geoff Turner is an Ashville resident.