Ortt, legislators in Orleans, Niagara say broadband fee will hurt expansion in rural areas

Posted 7 October 2020 at 7:20 pm

New fee squashed efforts to run major line through Orleans, county leader says

Press Release, State Sen. Robert Ortt

New York State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt was joined by Orleans County Legislature Chair Lynne Johnson and Niagara County Legislator Dave Godfrey at a press conference today calling on Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to repeal a fee on broadband installers that could threaten the expansion of broadband into under-served rural communities.

Ortt explained that a new fee on broadband installers was approved in the New York State budget in April. It requires the state Department of Transportation to collect new fees from companies that build lines in state right-of-ways or under highways. Ortt said if this initial fee isn’t bad enough, it also requires these companies to then pay an annual fee per foot of broadband, which calls into question the economic feasibility of expanding in rural areas where fewer customers make it more difficult to recoup the cost of such fees.

“Access to quality internet has never been more important as most school students are doing some, if not all, of their learning remotely, many adults continue to work from home and telemedicine is expanding” said Ortt. “This puts rural communities with poor internet connectivity at a major disadvantage. And as many of us are working to get internet service providers to expand into under-served communities, the state comes along and implements a new fee that actually discourages this expansion. It’s terrible policy and needs to be repealed.”

The Niagara Orleans Rural Alliance, led by legislators from both counties, has been working on the rural broadband problem for close to seven years and has been making progress, according to Lynne Johnson, Chair of the Orleans County Legislature and co-chair of NORA.

“We have some significant achievements, including being able to bring community WiFi hotspots to many public building in rural communities, but that is just a short-term solution,” said Johnson.  “We had a firm that was interested in running a major line through Orleans County that would have significantly improved internet service for our residents, but this new fee caused that firm to step back. It’s very disappointing that downstate legislators would ram through this new fee in the state budget with no understanding of its consequences on rural communities.”

Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey, the other NORA co-chair, said this fee works at cross purposes with the Governor’s “Broadband for All” program which was created to help address the rural broadband issue.

“On one hand, state government provides incentives for rural broadband because they recognize the fact that without such a program, internet service providers will not put the infrastructure into rural communities,” said Godfrey.  “Yet, they then pass legislation to increase fees on these very same providers, negating the incentives.  I’ve been in talks with many service providers working on this issue for years and I know how tough it is to make these projects feasible.  I am very thankful that Senator Ortt is the voice of reason in Albany and is fighting for the repeal of this ill-considered policy.”

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