Broadband-for-All: Convening the North Country

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AdkAction’s Broadband-for-All project is convening the North Country Region to identify households without access to high-speed broadband, to find solutions whenever possible, and to hold Spectrum accountable to meet its 145,000 address expansion commitment to the Public Service Commission.

Many residents of the Adirondacks have been waiting years for reliable high-speed Internet, and are understandably frustrated after getting nowhere with individual requests and complaints. 

“If we search our address, it says Spectrum is available. They won’t ever talk to us. We fall through the cracks…no broadband program and no access. I have emailed the broadband office, the PSC and our legislators.  Any ideas?”

Questions like these come to us because AdkAction plays a central role in broadband expansion in the North Country. Dave Wolff, co-founder of AdkAction and chair of our Broadband-for-All project, retired in 2006 after 31 years in sales and consulting with IBM. He has taken up the issue of equitable broadband expansion in the North Country on a nearly full-time basis over the past decade, working with local, state, and federal government officials, Internet service providers, and the NYS Broadband Program Office in a regional effort to identify gaps in broadband access, and to find solutions that ensure North Country residents can fully participate in and benefit from online access to school, work, health care, and more. 

Two major statewide initiatives to expand broadband access will conclude this year: 

  1. New NY Broadband Program: In 2015, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo established the $500 million New NY Broadband Program, a private-public partnership to deliver high speed Internet access to underserved areas. The program provides State grant funding through a “reverse auction” method to support projects that deliver broadband speeds of at least 100 Mbps (NY’s definition of high-speed access) in most areas, and 25 Mbps in the most remote areas. The remote areas being those areas where NY can’t afford to support high speed access given the amount of money appropriated for the program.
  2. Spectrum Buildout: In January, 2016, the NY Public Service Commission (PSC) approved a merger between Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications forming a new company, Spectrum. As a requirement of the merger, Spectrum is required to extend its network to pass (connect) an additional 145,000 homes across New York. 

At the end of this year, when these two programs come to an end, from 1% to 2% of New York residents will still be considered unserved (access to broadband speeds <25 Mbps) or underserved (access to broadband speeds <100 Mbps). We want to make sure that these remaining addresses,100,000+ homes and businesses, are not disproportionately located in the North Country. 

For the past 10 years we have held a monthly conference call of providers, town officials, and interested citizens from across the region, as well as state and federal officials. These 30-minute calls are a forum for the exchange of broadband expansion ideas, best practices, and lessons learned. Now, building on this coalition, we’re working to support a newly-formed North Country Broadband Alliance. This strategy was recommended during a call with the PSC’s Special Counsel for Ratepayer Protection, Rory Lancman. As a party to the Spectrum Proceeding, the North Country Broadband Alliance will be able to submit contested addresses to ensure that every claimed household or business is in fact an “Eligible Passing” under the terms of the 2019 Settlement Agreement between Spectrum and the PSC.


 

 


Essex and Franklin Counties have passed resolutions to join the Alliance, soon to be joined by Hamilton County. All counties in the Adirondacks are encouraged and invited to join in this endeavor to gather and share broadband related data.  

The need for accurate data showing the availability of broadband access to the household level has never been greater. Service providers and governments use broadband maps to make decisions about where service is needed and how to fund the expansion of broadband services to these areas. Here are some of the mapping tools being used: 

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) maps originally used census blocks to measure broadband connectivity. However, if just one address in a census block had a broadband connection, the entire block was counted as being served. In the December COVID Relief Bill based by Congress, the FCC received $98 million to implement the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act.  Per the FCC, “the new, geographically specific reporting standards will enable the Commission to produce comprehensive, publicly available broadband maps that depict fixed broadband availability data down to the individual-location level.” Their Broadband Data Task Force is looking for Internet users to submit their experience with Internet access where they live, or where they own a business. To participate, visit: https://www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData/consumers.

In parallel, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is updating the National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM) in coordination with the FCC. The NBAM is a GIS platform used to visualize and analyze federal, state, and commercial broadband data sets. This includes data from the FCC, U.S. Census Bureau (including demographic data), Universal Service Administrative Company, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Ookla (speed data), Measurement Lab (Internet performance data), BroadbandNow (coverage, pricing and provider plan information), and state governments. Users, including administrators from 33 participating states (including NY), access the NBAM mapping platform and use the data resources to better inform broadband projects and funding decisions in their states.

The following NYS Broadband Map relies on existing FCC map data which is not yet granular enough to be accurate to the household level.  With that caveat in mind, a person can check the broadband options that NYS considers available at a particular address by going to the Residential Broadband Availability tool.

NY State Broadband Coverage Map for 100 mbps or higher speed

The North Country Broadband Alliance is using household-level maps to hold Spectrum accountable and make sure no address is slipping through the cracks or being counted incorrectly. To do this, Ezra Schwartzberg of Adirondack Research uses 911 addresses overlaid with tax map lot information, satellite views to show where houses are located on the lot, and compares census blocks that received awards under the New NY program. Town supervisors review the data, and an address-by-address a list is created. Each contested address is reviewed and finalized by Dave Wolff of AdkAction, and prepared for submission to the PSC. This grassroots approach will help ensure that every address claimed by Spectrum is eligible to count  towards their required expansion, and ultimately force Spectrum to provide service to the harder-to-reach homes and businesses in the North Country.

Is your home or business in the North Country unable to get broadband internet service? Submit your name and location here, and we’ll add you to our list of addresses. 

Looking for more information about the monthly broadband call or joining the North Country Broadband Alliance? Send an inquiry to info@adkaction.org.

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