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Broadband gaps need to be filled soon

October 7, 2019 05:19 pm

Education, small business and health care are dramatically impaired by the lack of broadband access in rural communities. This was the core of testimony given at a congressional hearing Friday chaired by U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, who was joined by Commissioner Geoffrey Starks from the Federal Communications Commission, the agency responsible for broadband.

The bad news is that health care providers, schools and businesses have been shouting loudly and clearly about the lack of broadband in Greene and Columbia counties for years but the talking still goes on. The good news is that Friday, at Columbia-Greene Community College, the right people were doing the talking and the listening.

Testifying were business owners, educators and providers of health care and broadband. Delgado shared anecdotes about small businesses whose simple payment transactions consistently fail because their internet goes down 100 times a day and students who have to sit in McDonald’s parking lot to download and complete homework assignments.

An obstacle to effectively access broadband has been problems with its mapping, Starks said. According to the New York State Broadband Program Office, 98% of New Yorkers have access to broadband. But the number is an extreme overestimate because of mapping flaws. If one home within a census block has access to broadband services, the entire block is marked as served. Broadband providers at the hearing said they face extreme obstacles trying to build fiber optics in rural communities, predominantly because of population density.

With access to technology, not only would teachers and administrators be better trained for jobs, but diversity and inclusion could be better incorporated in students’ educational experiences through distance learning with more diverse, urban school districts.

Cliff Belden, Columbia Memorial Health’s chief medical officer, highlighted how much telemedicine can alleviate health care limitations in rural communities such as those in the Twin Counties.

As concerns about the costs and benefits of digital technology grow, lack of connectivity is a daily reminder that wider access to broadband can do good. Local broadband dead spaces need to be filled, and soon.