In her State of the State outlook, Gov. Kathy Hochul doubled down on connectivity. She proposed a $1 billion upgrade to New York's digital infrastructure.
The plan is called ConnectALL, and it would include new grant programs and partnerships to build broadband access and keep it affordable. It involves both public and private investment, according to details in the State of the State report, published online.
The initiative is informed in part by what communities have experienced over the past few years, Hochul said.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed how unreliable broadband connections are for people who suddenly were forced to live their lives through the internet, she said.
"The pandemic exposed how without broadband internet, New Yorkers can be disconnected from school, work and families. The ConnectALL Initiative will empower local municipalities and state agencies to set up nation-leading broadband infrastructure statewide, ensuring that every New Yorker has access to the internet when they need it.
"Connectivity helps New Yorkers go to school, work remotely, find a job, start a business, access healthcare, and communicate with loved ones. Further investment in this vital public infrastructure will not only strengthen the progress of our initial investment, it will boost economic growth and local innovation far into the future."
Decisions will be driven by a new ConnectALL Office. And it will begin with a Broadband Assessment Program for public view as an interactive map.
The Broadband Assessment Program would be administered by the Public Service Commission, according to the project outline.
This map will provide a useful tool for targeting investment, Hochul said.
"Consumers will also have the ability to search for broadband providers and review what services are available in their area."
In addition to equity evaluation, ConnectALL would hire a program equity director to oversee distribution to poor and rural areas.
the program looks to clear some of the state's dense regulatory oversight.
REMOVING RED TAPE
According to the program outlined in Hochul's report, several existing protocols will be removed to help streamline installation and reduce costs, including fees and regulatory hurdles.
Some of these changes with ConnectALL include a "Build-Free Initiative" for rural broadband development, which would eliminate state use and occupancy fees. Hochul wants to instruct the Department of Transportation to exempt ConnectALL projects, "reducing costs for program participants."
She wants the Department of Public Service (DPS) to streamline the current make-ready process, standardize right-of-way access for cellular and fiber installation, and set clear permitting timelines for fiber placement on state land. Hochul wants to establish simple and standardized procedures.
It is not immediately clear how such a statewide standard would fit inside the Adirondack Park, but Hochul decidedly wants to leverage existing fiber optic lines as a trunk for middle-mile broadband.
The $1 billion allocation would include new grant programs through ConnectALL, Hochul said.
"The State will coordinate with municipalities in every corner of New York to ensure funding is directed where it's most needed and that every community has the support and resources to effectively participate."
The grant programs would focus on three primary efforts: local connectivity planning; rural broadband and last mile connections; and innovation with competitive grants available for pioneering work in broadband.
A Digital Equity Program would work to ensure equitable access to broadband statewide, Hochul said. The equity plan would be developed by Empire State Development.
The push for broadband access drew strong support from many local officials.
In Plattsburgh, Town Supervisor Michael Cashman said he appreciates the governor's commitment to work with local government.
"All levels of government need to be on the same team. New York has great needs but opportunities are greater when we work together," Cashman said.
"(I am) looking forward to working with Gov. Hochul on a broad range of issues including but not limited to broadband, housing, childcare and infrastructure.”
Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake) said he welcomed Hochul's spirit of collaboration.
And broadband is a key concern here, Jones said.
"Throughout the North Country too many communities lack the access to reliable internet service. Investment to continue to build-out in rural areas is needed and the Governor’s proposal to streamline the process is much-needed."
State Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) counted the broadband initiative as one of the State of the State measures he supports.
“Some of the governor’s plans would make a positive impact on our quality of life," he said of her remarks.
"Her proposal to finally make broadband accessible statewide is welcome, but I do believe she ought to eliminate the fiber optic tax that’s delayed and driven up the costs of completing this project."
The "Build Free" aspect of Hochul's plan would eliminate state use and occupancy fees.
The state Broadband Program Office updates ConnectAll efforts on their webpage: nysbroadband.ny.gov
The $1 billion in proposed funding would be fleshed out in Hochul's executive budget. It would then have to be approved by legislature ahead of the state budget deadline April 1.
People can participate in the broadband assessment survey online, here: empirestatebroadband.com
To read this article on The Sun Community News, please visit: https://suncommunitynews.com/news/94540/connectall-high-speed-internet-access-for-everyone/