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Communities seeking solutions to lack of broadband access

Across New York State, activists are seeing broadband internet access as a way to improve education and to improve neighborhoods, perhaps with community ownership.

The digital divide has been something of a slogan, with activists saying something has to be done because finance and availability meant only some people had web service. Then, the problem worsened at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as students were forced into remote learning.

The State Education Department is running a series of webinars looking at the whole issue and what to do about it. Yesterday, they heard from a variety of perspectives.

"Many different projects and initiatives are underway," said  Curtis Robbins, director of strategy. research and evaluation for the John R. Oishei Foundation.

"In fact, Microsoft has partnered with municipalities and some rural counties to deploy WiFi hot spots. There are dozens of potential partners looking for ways to engage in this work."

The solutions are desperately needed. It's an issue in every section of the state, from rural areas like Niagara and Orleans Counties to the Bronx, where nearly half of residences don't have web access.

"Sullivan County is building a community 4-G system on towers in that rural area," Community Tech New York's Greta Byrum told the session.

"Brooklyn Public Library is extending their non E-rate internet connection out 300-feet in every direction by putting antennas on their roof tops in Brooklyn."

For many families, libraries have been their only alternative. It's not uncommon to see parents and students huddled outside libraries late at night in order to access 24/7 Wi-Fi service.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.