“Second Hand Woes” Don’t Bring Lexington Down – The BPO (Broadband Program Office) Gets an Earful

Hello Lexington! We made our video and audio recording (as threatened) so don’t be surprised to to find the place crawling with talent scouts waving film contracts at everyone. Thank you to the over 30 Lexington residents who came to the Francis DeSales Church to sing, and to friends from Haines Falls, Margaretville, Ashland and East Jewett who added their voices, bringing us to 41. Specials thanks to the Broadband Chair from the town of Ghent in Columbia County, Dave Berman, who came to meet us and was immediately seized, handed lyrics and slotted into the back row.

Our soloist, Glenda Lauten, and pianist, Jen Cawein, gave hours of their time to learn both song and piano. Espresso Pictures’s Kashka Glowacka and Benjamin Horn gave us time they couldn’t really spare to record, engineer, edit and produce the video and audio recording.

It’s appropriate to have used the Lexington Historical Society’s beautifully kept church for this effort. Lexington looks back and honors a past that has always involved neighbor helping neighbor, community breakfasts and dinners and barn dances, hard scrabble winters and wondrous springs. There is always a little Brigadoon in Lexington for the newcomer, especially when mists rise from the ravines after rain, and clouds actually do “scuttle” over the shoulder of a mountain, as they’re said to do in novels. It is Lexington’s generous spirit that filled the church on April 24 and that is what this effort of ours is meant to foster, preserve and use as a platform for a future we mean to direct.

Did I say “direct”? Heck, I did! Here’s the video! Go Team Lexington!

Here is just the audio of “Second Round Woes” :

Bigger is Not Better

Approved by New York State on January 8, 2016, and the surprise juggernaut dictating Round 1 terms of the broadband expansion grant program along with Verizon landline footprints, the Time Warner / Charter Communications merger is the newest and biggest monopoly to underserve upstate communities in their struggle for 21st century connectivity. Now, the FCC has given its blessing to the merger.

We deserve better. We deserve a choice. We want a chance. We won’t give up!

http://www.engadget.com/2016/04/25/time-warner-cable-charter-acquisition-approved/

Hunter Tannersville School Superintendent Adds His Voice to Broadband Initiative

Recently, Hunter-Tannersville School Superintendent, Patrick Darfier-Sweeney, addressed a letter to Governor Cuomo on behalf of all children in our region who lack adequate Internet speed and capacity. He has granted permission for us to reprint the letter on our website.

Date: Tue, 19 Apr 2016

The promise of Article XI in the New York State Constitution states,

“The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.”  The law provides the opportunity, fully supported and guaranteed to all children in New York State.  In this digital age, this promise cannot happen in my school district.  When students go home from the Hunter-Tannersville CSD their geography, not socio-economic standing, will determine the extent of their educational opportunities.

Of the one hundred and sixty-four square miles that make up our school district one-third of our area does not have access to digital connectivity except through the very expensive, slow and unreliable satellite system.  This situation is unacceptable and denies the opportunity of “support of a fully guaranteed education” (Article XI, NYS Constitution).  The problem is the lack of typical DSL service via the phone system, cable options, and lack of wireless cellular coverage.

The Governor, along with countless other politicians and education leaders, have made public statements about the need to correct this situation and even have pledged funding to support its correction, yet nothing has happened in our rural community.  Despite the acknowledged need to prepare our students for career and college readiness this basic structural shortcoming continues.

At the Hunter-Tannersville CSD, we extend our school hours in all grades K-12 for student accessibility to the digital world to support the integrated work we do every day. However, we are limited in what we can expect our school community to reinforce at home.  In real terms, this limits our ability to prepare our children for career and college readiness.  The opportunity to leverage the world’s knowledge for collective projects and enhanced learning is not available to our students.

Facts

1- The Hunter-Tannersville CSD includes: the Towns of Hunter, Lexington, and Jewett (East Jewett)

2-The school district is one hundred sixty four (164) square miles

3-The Towns of Lexington and Jewett have very limited to virtually no digital connectivity or wireless access

4-The Towns of Lexington and Jewett comprise one-third of the school district

5-Ability to communicate, research, and create digital products are determined solely by geography

6-Due to digital constraints school work assigned and expected from students is limited

7-Students at Hunter-Tannersville are not able to compete with other peers in the state due solely to their geography and the arbitrary selection of digital connectivity providers.

8-Despite multiple pledges by many in positions of power our area remains at a structural disadvantage

9-The Hunter-Tannersville CSD is charged by the New York State Education Department and New York State Government to prepare our students to be career and college ready

10-The Hunter-Tannersville CSD cannot realize this goal for its students since too many cannot hone their skills at home where they spend the majority of their time.  It is simple math, 6 hours in school, 18 hours at home, and 48 hours at home on the weekend.

Unfortunately, the longer it takes to rectify, the exponentially further behind our students become compared to their in-state peers.  The situation is unacceptable and needs your assistance.  We, at the Hunter-Tannersville CSD, respectfully ask for your help.

Sincerely,

Dr. Patrick Darfler-Sweeney

Superintendent of Schools

Hunter-Tannersville CSD

Lexington’s Latest Broadband Editorial (Here’s lookin’ at you, State!)

Hope Lexingtoners can come this Sunday, April 24. Your voices will be a bonus for sure.

April 24, Lexington Historical Society (housed in the Francis de Sales Catholic Church)
18  Church Street off Main Street Lexington

Time Change: Rehearsal will begin at 1:00 PM. Not Mandatory.
             Taping and filming at 2:00 PM

Hello Lexington. I want to tell you that the site chosen for our latest editorial in song is the Lexington Historical Society Building. Because of conflicts in the sound guy’s schedule, we will work to film and tape at 2:00 PM. We’ll have a rehearsal beginning at 1:00 PM for those who can make it, but your bodies being there are more significant than your vocal readiness. We can drill you at 2:00 and learn ya quick. I anticipate enough tried and true voices to compensate for the rest of us. We welcome Lexingtoners who simply want to move their mouths and look earnest.

The reformed lyrics are below. If you have already confirmed your willingness to join in and you can accommodate the time change, you don’t need to respond again. If the time change means you cannot come and you had said yes before, please let me know. And if you are on the fence, please jump down on my side and help. Email me or call 518-989-6211.

We’re excited because the Lexington Historical Society houses a player piano and some old piano rolls. Among them is a roll for “Second Hand Rose,” the song I had chosen to use as a vehicle to express our discontent with the abrupt change in anticipated Round 1 criteria for applications. Rarely can you use the word ‘serendipitous’ so I will use it here. The piano roll appears to be in good condition and we will make the player piano a pretty remarkable element of our video.

Here are the lyrics we’ll be singing. PLEASE add your voice to ours and make Lexington’s statement as remarkable as Lexington’s refusal to be denied as too small, too rural, too unremarkable to deserve their place in the 21st century. I look forward to hearing from more of you in the coming week.

Bonnie

Song Lyrics:

Second Round Woes
–with a nod to the BPO (Broadband Planning Office)

First they say we’ll get it. Work for your Broadband!
You will get your bandwidth– that became our plan.
Now the things they’re saying make it all unsure.
Hurting upstate families. This we can’t endure.

It’s no wonder that we feel abused.
When’s our chance for grants, we sadly muse.

We feel like Second Hand Rose
With Second Round woes.
We take back seat.
Only NYC glows.

How they promised end mile dreams were theirs too.
Bang! we’re banned from Round 1. Yo, we feel blue!

Second Round crumbs
That’s if a second round comes–
We rarely get a fair shake, it’s so true.

How’d we think the BPO had us on its brain?
Why’d they let the big boys in to hijack the train?

Everyone knows that we have
Second Round woes

Bring Round 2 round in June!

Hard to be from upstate. You can’t eat cleaner air.
Even fifteen dollars turns to twelve up here.
That’s why we need Broadband. We have so many plans.
Little business engines! Work for many hands!

It’s no wonder that we are confused.
Was it a case of upstate being … schmoozed?

We feel like Second Hand Rose
with Second Round woes.
We take back seat.
Only NYC glows.

How they promised end mile dreams were theirs too.
Bang! we’re banned from Round 1. Yo, we feel blue!

Second Round crumbs
That’s if a second round comes–
We rarely get a fair shake, it’s so true.

How’d we think the BPO had us on its brain?
Why’d they let the big boys in to hijack the train?

Everyone knows that we have
Second Round woes

Bring Round 2 round in June!

On the Landline Front In the Town of Lexington

The Lexington Broadband Initiative took up not only our fight for Broadband, but also our issues with Verizon landline service.  
 
We solicited your landline problems and sent your landline stories to the Public Utility Law Project, a non-profit organization that represents residential low income and rural consumers in utility, telecommunications and energy-related matters seeking to advance universal service, affordability and consumer protection. We then went back to residents to see if Verizon had contacted them, if service had improved and if we could call our problems solved.
 
I met attorneys from PULP in September when I submitted an opinion to the Public Service Commission opposing the Time Warner Charter merger without concessions. I had the opportunity to explain our landline problems to PULP attorneys at that time and attorney Lisabeth Jorgensen has helped me bring our issues to the attention of Verizon on two occasions, first in November, 2015 and again last week.
 
I secured permission from PULP to reprint the letter Verizon received most recently below. I look forward to reporting to the Town of Lexington again after a conference with Verizon Vice President for our region, Leecia Eve.

2nd PULP Letter to Verizon on behalf of Town of Lexington

News from the New York State Broadband Office regarding grant applications

Hello Patient Lexingtonians,

 

We have waited a long time for the 2015 Broadband 4-Everyone expansion grant window to open and on January 8, the announcement that grant applications would be accepted on March 1 for round one of the cycle was made. You can read about that here:

 

https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/10th-proposal-governor-cuomo-s-2016-agenda-dramatically-expand-and-improve-access-high-speed

 

The very good news is that the focus for the $500 million being made available through the grant program for one to one matches with private providers has been kept. Unserved or “end mile” communities are the primary funding targets. Here are elements of the program:

    – In the most remote areas of the state, 25 Mbps will be allowable speed

    – The private sector must provide a 50 percent match in investment across the program

    – High priority will be given to projects in underserved areas, including libraries and educational opportunity centers

    – Applications will be chosen through a “reverse-auction” process, which will award funding to project bidders seeking the lowest state investment

– Auctions will be held within each Regional Economic Development Council region to ensure statewide allocations of funding.

 

According to the press release, all projects awarded funding through the program are to be finished by December of 2018.

 

A second round of applications will be accepted in June, if current projections hold. That is the round that most concerns Lexington and most other communities in unserved, upstate New York. The reason for this is twofold: Under the terms of the 2015 expansion grant guidelines, concessions exacted by the Public Service Commission to allow the merger of Time Warner and Charter Communications to go forward, coupled with federal funds available under the Connect America program that will be rolled out later this month, make any towns that have a Time Warner franchise agreement, and any towns with Verizon phone exchanges ineligible for round 1 application submission.

 

Because Time Warner must expand their coverage footprint to 145,000 unserved homes in their franchise areas, and because Verizon is eligible to apply for the federal Connect America funding, it’s probable that waiting to see where Time Warner moves to meet the terms of their merger with Charter Communication, and waiting to see if Verizon shows interest in the funding available to them to expand coverage in upstate communities makes sense to the New York State Broadband office. They will not accept expansion grant applications from Time Warner franchise areas and Verizon exchange areas until that first window of applications closes in April. If you follow the link above, you can read the RFP (request for proposals or grant application criteria) on your own. All of the information is there.

 

The upside: 145,000 more homes will be taken out of expansion grant competition because they will have coverage committed to them under the terms of the merger. Time Warner/Charter must self-fund their expansion. No grant award money will be extended to them to cover infrastructure costs related to the terms of their merger agreement. Moreover, if history guides us, Verizon is unlikely to offer Broadband coverage in upstate New York.

 

And so we look forward with confidence to June. Lexington’s application will be prepared by our grant partners, Margaretville Cable and Western Catskills Community Revitalization Council.  They are prepared to meet the grant application deadline, and have been gathering both anecdotal and data driven parts of the application over the past months. Margaretville Cable has applied for and won Connect NY grants for broadband expansion in the past. They are a respected resource at the state level. We have the best representation we could have going forward. Under the leadership of Warren Hart at the County level, we have the knowledge that local providers are working together to help shape the best plans that will meet all of the criteria for applications in June.

 

I don’t know if in the end we will succeed, but I do know that Lexington– all of you– have put yourselves behind this effort in a way that has to be a model for cohesiveness, enthusiasm and commitment to a cause. We are a small town that has made its case and we’ll continue to make our case until the future belongs to us.

 

Best- Bonnie

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.

Lexington Broadband Internet Pep Rally Video

The Lexington Broadband Initiative derives from a post ­Irene Long Term Recovery Grant study in which the town identified broadband and cell coverage as their No. 1 goal to help Lexington renew and revitalize. It is the foundation goal that makes all other other development objectives possible. Our partner in our grant application is MTC Cable, a subsidiary of Margaretville Telephone. Other partners include Western Catskill Community Revitalization Counsel; Catskill Watershed Corporation; Catskill Center for Conservation & Development; and Greene County Office of Economic Development, Tourism and Planning, for in kind services. We thank Mid­Hudson Cable for their assistance in providing interconnection options for our proposed fiber network. Lexington represents MTC’s second step into Greene County following on successful and ongoing expansion of telecommunications services into the Town of Halcott.