Broadband Update: Greene County Must Help Itself NOW!

SAVE THE EXPANSION GRANT MONEY MEANT FOR RURAL BROADBAND COVERAGE

I am urging everyone to jump through what we hope will be one last hoop before the focus of the 2015 Broadband 4-Everyone expansion grant opportunity is finally decided.

You probably have received a letter from Senator George Amedore this week asking you to help him help you by going to broadbandmap.ny.gov to report your area as unserved– Lexington is UNSERVED– or underserved by broadband internet. Please note: Verizon Hotspots, satellite Internet and 3- or 4-G cell phone internet is not defined as “broadband” by New York State. Those modalities lack the speed and capacity of broadband. They have low data caps and are not sufficient to serve the small scale commerce we need, or to bring families to towns that need families. They will not allow the full cultural engagement that high speed and high capacity internet will bring to our communities. Wireless Internet is not an option in many rural mountainous communities, nor will wireless internet meet the speeds that will be demanded to qualify as broadband in the coming years.

Why should you do this? Because we need to make ourselves heard or we will lose our chances for broadband in the near future. There are competing voices for the $500 million public/private dollar to dollar match designed to cut infrastructure costs for providers and make rural communities with lower populations competitive for service. There is a lobbying effort going on to put this money into increasing speeds in areas of the state, mostly urban, that already are served. Verizon, Time Warner and other large providers do not need grant money in urban areas where the promise of profitability is high, but that will not keep them from campaigning for it.

Our lobby is us. We have strength in numbers only and that is why this is so important. You can also call Senator Amedore’s staff to ask for help getting on the map: 518.853.3401.

I’d also ask you to send a quick email to Senator Amedore… amedore@nysenate.gov and ask him to keep up the pressure to keep the money targeted for unserved and underserved rural communities. Let him know that you are waiting for broadband access and that you thank him for his efforts. Copy Assemblyman Lopez as well: lopezp@assembly.state.ny.us

Please act today. We are sure that we are at a critical moment in this process.

Thank you,

Bonnie Blader

Lexington Broadband Initiative

The Albany Report: Steve Finch, Bonnie Blader

Steve Finch, Plant Manager of Margaretville Telephone Company, and Lexington resident Bonnie Blader talk about local efforts to build rural broadband access in Greene County. Hosted by Cecilia Tkaczyk.

Use the audio player below to listen to the full interview:

September 10: Lexington Broadband update

We continue to await grant criteria and hope that window soon opens. In the meantime, MTC is working on securing the necessary rights-of-way for the equipment building needs as well as preliminary network engineering required to order long-lead-time material.

 

I will be on WGXC 90.7 FM Greene & Columbia County Community Radio with MTC representatives to speak to the issues of rural broadband expansion. The program is hosted by former State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk and airs from 10 – 11.

What you can do: Once again the Department of Public Service asks for comments, this time on a Petition for Merger of Charter Communications, Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. (Case 15-M-0388).

The factsheet distributed by PSC reads in part: “Under the proposed transaction, Charter and Time Warner will merge into a company identified as New Charter. If this merger occurs, New Charter will own and/or manage systems serving approximately 19.4 million broadbandn customers, 17.3 million video customers, and 9.4 million voice customers across 41 states. Charter will acquire, and intends to retain, all of Time Warner’s existing assets in New York State.”

The PSC has opened a comment period about this Petition. The closest meeting to Lexington will occur on September 17, 2015, at the Bethlehem Town Hall Auditorium, 445 Delaware Avenue, Delmar, NY. The meeting begins with an information session at 6:00 PM and an open hearing in which the public can comment beginning at 7:00 and ending when comments are completed.

Other avenues to respond are: Via Internet or in Writing. Submit comments electronically to Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary, at secretary@dps.ny.gov or by mail to Secretary Brugess at the Department of Public Service. Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350. Comments may also be entered directly into the case by clicking this link. You can view existing comments added by clicking here.  Comments are requested by September 16, 2015 “to ensure full consideration.”

This is my response as Co-Chair of the Lexington Broadband Initiative:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Petition submitted by Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications.

At the State Broadband Summit held in Albany in 2015, a representative from the New York State Public Service Commission spoke before the assembly as a keynote speaker. He asked, “What can we do as a regulatory commission to encourage broadband coverage in rural communities?” He answered his own question in part by saying, “We can exact concessions with telecommunication mergers.”

I am the Co-Chair of the Town of Lexington Broadband Initiative. Lexington, located in Greene County, in the heart of the Catskill State Park, has the distinction of being the least served rural community in Greene County and we are, no doubt, among the least served rural communities in any region of New York State, and are similar to all unserved and underserved communities in our pressing need for broadband. Our mountainous geography makes us ineligible for wireless broadband services.

Since January, the Lexington Broadband Initiative Committee has worked hard to acquire a potential broadband provider in order to take advantage of the New New York Broadband 4-Everyone $500 million one-to-one matching grants. As we began that task, we contacted all providers within our area. Time Warner partially serves the neighboring town of Jewett. Despite our best and consistent efforts to contact Time Warner operatives for a discussion of a potential partnership, we were unable to reach any office or department that could or would discuss our Initiative. It is nearly impossible for any grassroots community organization to find its way through the hierarchy of a company as impenetrable as Time Warner is, even to inquire. Time Warner operators have no information beyond enrollment of customers; the corporate offices do not reply to queries from those without influence. If you are a resident asking for bundled service within an already covered area, you are accommodated.

We understand that companies like Time Warner, Verizon and some mid-sized cable companies measure the eligibility of a town for coverage by averaging the potential customer base over the covered miles under consideration, typically looking for an average anywhere from 21 to 35 residents taking service over the proposed miles of coverage. We know that rural communities do not meet that population criteria, and that is why the Broadband 4-Everyone grant program was conceived, to leverage that lower population count against the infrastructure costs entailed in any buildout. We also know that there are rural providers who manage as few as 15 residents taking service averaged over covered miles, and they do it without the help of outside funding and still manage to stay in business. Those rural providers are few and if a rural community is not located within the vicinity of such a provider, its chances for internet coverage lie in satellite, Verizon hotspots, or, for some, cell tower coverage to cellphones. None of these services qualify as broadband and they will not accommodate business needs within a community, will not serve the increasing Internet demands made on students in all NY school systems, even rural school systems, will not accommodate telemedical alliances. Excessive overage charges and low data caps impede any meaningful use, drive down rural populations and real estate values and degrade the quality of 21st century community life.

Because we know Time Warner’s activity in high-population urban and suburban markets guarantees them high profitability; and because we know that this merger further monopolizes a market where consumers already have too few choices, we ask that the proposed Petition for  Merger between Time Warner Cable and  Charter Communications be denied without an agreement by TimeWarner/Charter to build down to 10 – 12 residents averaged over the covered area of a given unserved or underserved community. Further, we ask that this proposed merger be denied unless and until Time Warner commits to completely build out in those rural, underserved communities where they added some coverage only in order to block a competing company’s proposed coverage area, leaving entire neighborhoods stranded without service for the foreseeable future.

We ask that you exact these concessions on behalf of broadband connectivity in unserved and underserved rural communities, or deny the Petition for Merger.