Legislators in New York have spoken out against recently-enacted broadband fees that they claim are potentially punitive to the state’s rural residents. State Senator Robert Ortt, Orleans County Legislative Chair Lynne Johnson, and Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey held a joint press conference expressing their opposition to the state budget plan to collect fees for broadband expansion, reports GovTech.com. The current directive allows the New York State Department of Transportation to charge companies for constructing broadband lines in state right-of-ways or under highways.
With students and businesses so reliant on broadband during the ongoing pandemic, the legislators are concerned that the extra costs to get communities connected will present an expense that rural residents cannot afford.
“We’re here today to ask New York Senate Democrats, New York Assembly Democrats, to repeal that tax, and there is already a bill to do that, at least in the Senate,” said Ortt.
Johnson added that she has been listening to her constituents, who are feeling the burden of coping with limited broadband access. She relayed one woman’s story, saying, “Spectrum stopped within a thousand feet in front of her home and her schoolchildren are falling behind, because when she gets home from work, they have to go to a WiFi hotspot in order to do their work. Pushing to repeal state broadband fees that disrupt several high speed Internet expansion programs across regions of rural upstate is relevant to us.”
Although the state of New York has claimed broadband outreach success just shy of 100 percent, Johnson is among many lawmakers who question those findings. “We found at least 40 percent of homes had no conductivity in our two counties,” she said.
“It’s such a critical issue for their communities, their districts and our mutual constituents,” Senator Ortt added. “The reason I think this is even more timely is because we’re living in a pandemic where people are working remotely, where children are going to school remotely. For a lot of people in Western New York, and certainly in eastern Niagara and Orleans County, it’s not an automatic thing. Remote means you have to have access to high-speed reliable internet, and they don’t have it.”