100 percent rural Internet coverage called ‘national priority’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 March 2014 at 12:00 am

Collins holds Congressional field hearing in Albion

Photos by Tom Rivers – Mark Meyerhofer, director of government relations for Time Warner in Northeast-Western New York, speaks this morning during a Congressional field hearing through the House Small Business Subcommittee on Health and Technology. Congressman Chris Collins is at right, chairing the hearing.

ALBION – Extending broadband Internet access to 100 percent of the country, including sparse rural pockets currently without the service, needs to be a top priority for the country, said Congressman Chris Collins.

He chaired a Congressional field hearing in Albion today, when industry officials spoke about the challenges in providing coverage in some of the rural areas, and the need to reach “the last mile” so businesses and residents aren’t at a competitive disadvantage.

Collins, R-Clarence, said 97 percent of the 27th Congressional District has broandband access, but that still leaves about 24,000 without high-speed Internet.

In the U.S., about 98.5 percent have access, but that leaves 4.5 million without the service in the country, Collins said.

“It’s a national priority to get 100 percent coverage,” he said.

Collins held the hearing in Albion, where Orleans County leaders are working with the rural townships to try to quantify who doesn’t have the service and to figure out how to get high-speed Internet along roads that only have a few residents.

A survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2013 found that 69 percent of NY farms have high-speed Internet. That leaves 31 percent or 11,000 farm operations without the service, said Kendra Lamb, who spoke at the hearing on behalf of New York Farm Bureau and Lamb Farms in Oakfield.

High-speed Internet is imperative for many farm operations, for record-keeping, access to databases, and use of precision technology in the field, Lamb said.

It’s also important for retaining residents, she said. Many don’t want to live in areas without the service.

“This makes our rural areas less attractive places for people to live, spurring the brain drain and economic decline some of our formerly thriving small towns in rural New York have experienced,” Lamb said. “A large part of ensuring that our rural areas remain viable and contribute to economic development is making sure every citizen has access to Broadband service.”

Orleans Hub will have more later on the hearing.