State Lawmakers Hear About Broadband Internet Access From Lewis County Officials, Plan Legislation To Regulate Internet Service Providers Like Utilities | Lewis County

LOWVILLE – Two state lawmakers want to subject internet service providers to the same rules and regulations that power companies must follow.

State Senator Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, and Assembly Member Nily Rozic, D-Queens, traveled to Lewis County on Monday to hear comments from local officials on their proposal, the NY Broadband Resiliency, Public Safety and Quality Act.

The legislation, currently under development by the Assembly and Senate committees in Albany, would allow the New York State Civil Service Commission to oversee and regulate companies that provide a protocol service. Broadband Internet and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) in the state.

This would position Internet access as another “public good” such as electricity, telephone service or running water – a service essential to function in modern society.

“Together with Senator Ryan, we developed legislation that would put this oversight structure in place, just like any other utility, so New Yorkers don’t have to worry we will have universal broadband and of good quality, ”Ms. Rozic said. .

At Monday’s meeting, Mr Ryan and Ms Rozic heard from representatives of the State Comptroller’s Office, the Lowville Free Library, a local communications workers union, the Development Authority of the North Country and Lewis County Administration, to provide advice on what needs to be done to improve Internet access in the north of the country.

“We are here to find out more about what is happening in Lewis County and the Adirondacks, and to inform the legislation,” Ms. Rozic said.

Most local officials said access is one of the biggest issues they face. Lewis County Director Ryan Piche said about 49% of residents in the county have no broadband access and can only get service through cellular networks or a satellite connection. This flies in the face of official state and federal government figures, which indicate that about 98% of New Yorkers in the state have access to high-speed internet.

According to Michael Lefebvre, who works with the State Comptroller’s Office of Budget and Policy Analysis, 98% of New Yorkers have high-speed internet access, but rural New York counties can see as many as 23 % of their population without broadband access.

Nick Hoh, a member of the Broadband Brigade and a member of Communications Workers of America Local 1104, said that number was likely inflated.

“We don’t think this is correct,” he said. “It’s based on census blocks, so if a very small part of that census block is wired for broadband, they consider the whole block to be wired, and that’s where the number gets inflated. “

Mr. Hoh said he was interested to see what the PSC is doing with its current mandate to get a much more accurate count of addresses with broadband access. Mr. Ryan and Ms. Rozic were the architects of the law requiring the PSC to undertake this count last year.

“We’ve struggled statewide with this idea that almost everyone is covered, but that never seemed to really reflect my discussions with people in the community,” he said. “I guess we fell in love for a while, that we had this wide coverage.”

Mr Hoh added that modern definitions of broadband coverage have also aged, with download speeds of 25 megabytes per second being considered broadband to high speed.

“It’s not going to go far,” he said, suggesting broadband should be set with faster speed in the future.

Mr Piche also said the county is having problems expanding coverage in rural areas. He said the county is currently considering a project to expand broadband to 91 residents, at a cost of $ 6,100 per resident.

“It’s exorbitant,” he said. “We are having this debate now, is it worth our taxpayers’ money to fund them?” “

Mr Ryan said his bill would give the PSC the power to order internet service providers to deploy internet access to all addresses in a certain area, in the same way they have ordered internet service providers. electricity and telephone companies to provide access to all customers in a certain area. if they want to sell in that market.

Allowing the PSC to regulate Internet service providers would also give the board the ability to hold Internet service providers accountable for the services they provide and for errors that occur. The PSC could require the provider to pay fees and reduce customer bills for extended service interruptions, and could require providers to provide proof of the speed they charge residents.

Mr Piche said when Lewis County completed its investigation into broadband access, they discovered that many residents were concerned about high prices and poor quality.

Over 40% of those who reported having Internet access reported paying $ 75 or more per month for service that was often slow or unreliable, but that was their only viable option.

“I think that’s the biggest issue, the price, but also the quality,” Ryan said. “I think a lot of my Buffalo constituents are paying their monthly fees for something that’s unreliable, and when it comes time to upload your homework, you can’t sit back and wait.”

Mr. Piche, however, expressed concern about Mr. Ryan’s and Ms. Rozic’s plans. He said he had concerns about adding another state agency to regulate internet access in addition to agencies already involved, such as the departments of transportation and environmental conservation.

“DOT and DEC are already making things harder to develop,” he said. “We can’t treat every square inch of real estate in New York City like it’s Manhattan, we don’t have this population density and people won’t pay these fees to grow here.”

Mr Ryan said he understands these concerns, but pointed to how the PSC manages electricity in New York City as an example of how it will regulate internet access.

“When we come home from school we turn on the lights, it’s a reliable service,” he said. “And if the power goes out, it’s not you fighting the power company, it’s the Civil Service Commission. So we’ve had a very unregulated system in New York since the inception of the Internet, and things haven’t improved for communities in New York State.

Ms Rozic said that a clear and precise mandate from the PSC to regulate internet companies should only make it easier and more equitable for residents to access quality high-speed internet.

Both lawmakers said they have seen internet service providers go to great lengths to end regulations or programs intended to improve internet access, and they predict they will suffer a similar setback with this bill.

“It makes sense that they fight this bill,” Ryan said. “At the moment, they are allowed to take money out of the pockets of all New Yorkers without any supervision.”

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