Turning on broadband can instantly transform lives in rural places.
Here in Halcott, a hamlet in the Catskills, the broadband has allowed Mr. DiBenedetto to broaden his business online — a yogurt company in Brooklyn recently contacted him about a single source contract. His daughter, Elena, was able to help out on the farm while getting a master’s degree online.
“In today’s technology-driven world, access to high-speed internet is essential to building strong communities, growing the economy and supporting our everyday lives,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said. “New York is leading the nation with the largest state broadband investment program in history — ensuring high-speed internet access for all residents, especially those in rural areas, and empowering students, entrepreneurs and businesses to thrive in our global economy.”
So far, the state’s partnerships with private companies has worked relatively well and has enabled the program to make steady progress. But that has not always been the case when local governments have relied on private companies to upgrade internet networks. Though it was not a part of Mr. Cuomo’s plan, Mayor Bill de Blasio was forced to sue Verizon this month after the company failed to build out its promised fiber-optic network to every home in New York City.
And while widening the broadband infrastructure is an essential step toward bridging the digital divide, simply ensuring access does not address the issue of affordability, especially since the F.C.C. is considering slashing parts of a federal program, known as “Lifeline,” which is meant to help provide affordable broadband to low-income residents.
Under New York’s program, providers must offer 100 mbps speed — fast enough to download a movie in high definition in 90 seconds — for $60 a month. “That’s pretty amazing,” said Gigi Sohn, a former senior adviser at the F.C.C., acknowledging that it was a reasonable price given that prices elsewhere can be much higher. “But if you’re really poor, can you afford it? I don’t know. If you are a poor rural person living in Appalachia, that’s a big bite out of your budget.”
But many rural businesses in New York have jumped at the chance for faster internet.
About an hour from Halcott lies the Beaverkill Valley Inn, a historic hotel sitting on the banks of the Beaver Kill river, a world-famous fly-fishing spot in Lew Beach, N.Y. There’s no cellphone service, so for years the inn and its guests shared a satellite internet connection.
“We were competing with our guests need and our own need to do business,” said Kathy Bryant, one of the inn’s managers. She noted that, despite a sprawling property well suited for corporate retreats and meetings, the inn was never able to attract that kind of business because of their limited internet.
After years of pleading with local officials and telecommunications providers for a broadband connection, the inn was connected to high speed internet by the Margaretville Telephone Company last August. Today, flush with retreats, weddings and guests spending an extra day or so “working from home,” the inn just had its most successful year in it’s 120-year history.
“Now, we just reassure them that they can still unplug while they’re up here,” Ms. Bryant said with a laugh.