Application Process Underway To Distribute State Funding To Encourage Universal Broadband

George Winner

December 06, 2007

Albany, N.Y.-- New York State Senator George H. Winner, Jr. (R-C-I, Elmira), chairman of the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources (LCRR), said today that applications for a new state competitive grant program for communities and organizations seeking to develop high-speed Internet access in currently underserved areas will be available beginning Friday, December 7, 2007.

Winner, who has sponsored legislation and strongly supports efforts to close New York’s "digital divide," said that applications and additional information will be accessible online through the state Office for Technology (click on "Univeral Broadband" icon at the bottom of the home page).

The beginning of the new grant program was included in an announcement earlier today by Governor Eliot Spitzer that the newly formed New York State Council for Universal Broadband will continue to explore and develop strategies to expand access to affordable, high-speed Internet to unserved and underserved communities statewide. The Council is comprised of state and local government representatives, as well as public- and private-sector leaders from throughout New York.

"Providing citizens across upstate New York with equal access to high-speed Internet must be a high priority. High-speed Internet has become fundamental to our economic and educational success," said Winner. "But getting it done is going to require state government incentives that encourage broadband providers to expand affordable service to rural and other underserved regions."

The LCRR, according to Winner, estimates that at least 750,000 rural New Yorkers do not have high-speed, or broadband, Internet access through either cable modem, DSL, fiber, or wireless service. However, he added, the digital divide is not solely a rural phenomenon. Many suburban and urban households also remain without such broadband Internet access.

This year’s state budget included $5 million for the new grant program, which will seek to provide seed money to eligible communities and organizations that create public-private partnerships to research, design and implement solutions to advance universal broadband access.

In 2006 Winner sponsored a law that directed several state agencies to examine strategies for expanding high-speed Internet access to rural and other underserved areas. The report offered a broad set of recommended actions and will continue to help guide New York’s ongoing broadband access efforts. The new Council for Universal Broadband will further develop a comprehensive statewide strategy to expand affordable broadband access and, among other goals, examine ways to leverage existing resources and recommend non-traditional expansion methods.

It’s a necessary step, Winner said.

"This action represents one of the keys to fully bringing the excitement and prosperity of a high-tech future to rural New York. Rural communities must find a niche in the continued emergence of New York State's high technology industry. We have to focus on building the necessary infrastructure and work force to cement rural New York's place in that future," said Winner. "Certainly, additional funds and incentives will be required in the 2008-09 state budget in order to realistically accomplish these goals."

Bringing broadband Internet service to new customers, especially in low-population areas, is a costly proposition for providers. Winner is also sponsoring legislation to offer targeted tax relief that could encourage some broadband providers to immediately begin expanding their service areas.

"A bipartisan, widespread commitment throughout New York government to make high-speed Internet accessible and affordable for every community is the key to a long-term, sustained effort," said Winner. "But we also need to begin, right now, to try to spark an expansion wherever we can."