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Governor kills broadband study, but says issue will be discussed in budget talks

Eileen Buckley

Within hours of the news Gov. Andrew Cuomo killed a bill requiring a look at where high-speed broadband existed in New York, a press aide said the governor still saw it as a good idea and would bring it up in budget talks. State Sen. George Borrello can tell him why it’s needed.There’s a data food fight over how much broadband there is in the state. The governor says it is around 98%, while Microsoft says it is around 66%. The Redmond, WA computer giant even installed a web system across Orleans County because service was so bad.

The state legislation given a pocket veto by the governor might have answered the question by requiring a Public Service Comission report. Cuomo Spokesman Richard Azzopardi said there wasn’t the money for the $3 million study, so the measurement proposal will now be taken up as part of budget talks.

Borrello said broadband access is a long-standing problem in the Southern Tier, made clearer by the pandemic and students at home needing broadband for classwork.

"Throughout New York State, the statistic that I have is that roughly 27% of students in New York State do not have access to high-speed internet," he said. "That’s the entire state and I guarantee you that a large percentage of that is in rural areas, like Western New York and the Southern Tier."

Borrello said complaints from parents have made clear how bad the situation is.

"Saying they have to take their children sit in a parking lot of a fast food restaurant in order to access the WiFi so that their kids can do their homework. You have places where you can’t get a cell signal," said the Hanover Republican. "We’ve been providing during the pandemic MyFi cards and things like that based on the cellular signal. If you can’t get a cell signal, that’s not going to help either."

Borrello is blasting the veto, saying people need to know how bad the system is, despite the governor’s Broadband for All program.

"He’s tried to claw back that money by assessing new taxes and fees and it’s killing broadband expansion across New York State," Borrello said, "and I’m certain that’s why he doesn’t want the study to be done in the manner that it’s being done, which is done with a transparent reporting to the public of what actual true numbers are."

Borrello said it is hard to plan what to do if it isn’t clear what the problem is. He says Albany is making it worse by charging a tax for installing optical fiber computer lines along state highways, raising costs or cutting back projects.

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.
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