The following post was written by Christina Sonsire, a candidate for Chemung County Legislature in the 7th District and administrator of the Chemung County Matters blog, and Tony Pucci, a candidate for Chemung County Legislature in the 1st District.
As we campaign in our respective districts, one of the concerns that residents express is the lack of access to affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access, particularly in the rural areas. It has become clear to us that what many in this country take for granted as an essential utility for enhancing our personal and professional lives remains unavailable for a significant number of residents in Chemung County.
What steps has Chemung County taken to ensure that all of our residents have broadband access? How effective have these steps been? What can be done to address the problem?
In November 2010, almost eight years ago, the Chemung County Legislature passed a resolution authorizing development of a “Regional Open Access Fiber Optic Backbone” in conjunction with Schuyler and Steuben counties.
Each county committed local taxpayer monies, along with a significant investment from Corning, Inc., to build out this foundational backbone that became known as the Southern Tier Network.
According to the STN website, “the network was built to support the needs of public safety, improve broadband access in rural areas, increase competition and the level of telecommunications services throughout the region….”
The network has now been completed; however, broadband access remains woefully inadequate in many areas.
On June 4, 2018, we attended a meeting of the Chemung County Legislature during which representatives of ECC Technologies presented their Chemung County Broadband Assessment, confirming that Internet access in Chemung County lags behind other urbanized counties in New York state. A link to ECC’s full report is found here.
Almost 1,300 local residents completed the survey. The results are troublesome to say the least. Over 80% responded that Internet access “is very or somewhat important to their ability to earn a living or quality of life.” A staggering 90% stated that having a choice in providers is important.
However, many of our neighbors have neither access nor choice. The ECC report shows that nearly three quarters of respondents would consider switching providers if they could; 38% are unable to purchase the speed of broadband service they need; 34% with someone in school report having trouble completing homework; and 15% have no access to the Internet at all.
We found one comment especially troubling. Lacking Internet access, one person wrote, “I’ve had to sit in the McDonald’s parking lot with my children in order for them to do their homework.” This is a situation that residents in rural communities must not accept as normal.
Of equal concern is the lack of download speed. New York State defines true broadband as a download speeds of 100Mpbs, but considers 25Mbps as reasonable broadband for rural areas. The ECC survey revealed that very few residential properties come close to meeting those standards, as shown below.
After nearly eight years of effort and financial investment, why hasn’t more progress been made to deliver high-speed broadband access to the rural areas of the county?
The Broadband Assessment combined with the many negative comments from Chemung County residents should have initiated town hall meetings by all legislators in each respective district to inform residents directly on this important issue.
From our view, being accountable to the residents of Chemung County means making sure that there is adequate follow-through on critical issues affecting quality of life, such as reasonable access to the Internet. Significant taxpayer dollars were used to build the network. If it is not working as promised, county lawmakers have a duty to let the community know what went wrong, and take steps to address it immediately.
eIn 2014 we brought Empire Access fiber optic cable tp Big Flats and it has been spreading out more and more and should soon be in the Town of Elmira. We also dedicate the franchise fees collected from them and Spectrum to further deployment of fiber optic cable. Out Town Supervisor has been engaged on efforts with Mike Krusen to fiber the entire county. It takes a lot of money and time. But, like you, I live in the outskirts and dont yet have fiber. Sometime.Loading...
Christina and Tony thank you for your timely and important blog. As may know this topic is of great concern to me and a priority. STN was established to build a fiber backbone throughout our region that would provide access to other regions and encourage futher private sector build out in our county. On the last goal it has been both successful and a marker that more needs to be done to expand both access and reliability throughout Chemung County. How we establish the next level of build out throughout the county is in fact the topic for discussion right now and most likely a request for proposals to provide structure and cost. For example we have been provided preliminary estimates that a full build out would cost $15 million and additional $5 million if all of the approximately 11,000 homes connected. Daunting numbers on the surface but perhaps not if a small user fee is connected to the buildout and negotiators for pole connections provide some relief. It is my sense also that economic development grants might also be available and perhaps NYS funding to improve access for local students. The structure will be important and it seems in the end a private/public partnership could make the most sense. As I said although STN has partially served its purpose it has also made clear that rural buildout will require something other than private sector marketplace forces that buildout in the most densely populated areas. Likewise the system should ensure competition to ensure higher reliability, speed and pricing and it seems that all of these issues when taken together holler out for a private sector/public sector solution. Stay tuned as we move this important matter forward.Loading...