Closing the Rural Digital Divide: A Publicly-Owned High Speed Internet Utility for All Rensselaer County Residents
In the 21st century – affordable, reliable, and high-speed internet access is an essential utility rather than a privilege – and I look forward to prioritizing this issue in our County Legislature.
Legislators in Washington County and in Genessee County recently approved surveys to identify households without high-speed internet service (at least 100 Mpbs), using federal COVID-funds to offset any cost to the taxpayer. We should follow suit, and utilize a small portion of incoming federal COVID-aid to connect all of our county's residents and businesses to reliable, high-speed internet utilizing eligible funds from the American Rescue Plan. Up to $400 million has been made available to rural communities and local governments by the federal government to close rural internet service and broadband gaps.
To achieve universal access and comprehensive coverage from the most rural parts of Rensselaer County to our urban centers, we need a 21st-century publicly-owned high-speed broadband program that covers the cost of building out new high-speed broadband infrastructure (of at least 100 Mpbs) throughout the entire county, wherever it's currently absent following a countywide survey.
Utilizing existing federal infrastructure and broadband funds, the county would then create a publicly-owned broadband utility to inject competition into the market and achieve universal access and offset any cost to the consumer.
I plan to then introduce legislation that will begin the process of establishing a publicly-owned, countywide high-speed broadband internet utility to act as competition to the singular provider, which has a virtual monopoly over the local market, and eventually replace that provider with one that is wholly accountable to Rensselaer County ratepayers and consumers at no cost to county residents.
Given that 54% of households in the US with incomes below $20,000 have internet, compared to nearly 90% of households with incomes above $100,000 and to ensure all households are connected regardless of cost or ability to pay, the program would use broad categorical and income eligibility to cover any unforeseen and additional costs to achieve 100% coverage.
We can't have kids doing homework in grocery store parking lots because they lack adequate internet connection at home like during the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating existing achievement gaps.
It's time for #BroadbandForAll. Tomorrow will be too late.