By David Lee
For Capital Region Independent Media
GHENT — U.S. Rep. Marcus Molinaro, R-19, this month convened a “listening session” at the Ghent firehouse in Columbia County to help him learn about infrastructure and more specifically broadband communications.
“Rural communities can no longer be an afterthought. For too long, rural communities in Columbia County, Greene County, and across Upstate New York have had to deal with significant gaps in internet connectivity and deteriorating infrastructure,” Molinaro said in a press release.
Molinaro serves on two committees: the House Agriculture Committee and the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee. The meeting was designed to address issues and challenges of telecommunications and broadband internet access.
The telecommunications industry was represented by executives from Mid-Hudson Cable, Archtop Fiber, Spectrum, Consolidated Communications and New York State Telecommunications Association, Inc. They said the high cost of the infrastructure needed to extend broadband service to those most in need of it were a barrier to progress.
According to the New York State Public Service Commission Broadband Map, 97.4% of the population in the state is covered, according to the state map. In Greene County, the number is 90.5% coverage, with 88.4% of Greenville wired for broadband.
The number in the Greenville Central School District, with large swathes of rural neighborhoods, is substantially lower at 73.2%. That means 26.8% of residents in the school district, totaling 1,192 people, do not have high-speed broadband access.
At the meeting, the representatives of consumers such as farmers, schools, the hospital and town supervisors were in agreement that the COVID-19 pandemic, with the move to at-home learning and working, had exposed some of the shortcomings in telecommunications.
Speaking as a cattle rancher, Phil Trowbridge emphasized how important internet connectivity is and also how expensive it is.
Andrew Ledoux, dean of Student Development at Columbia-Greene Community College said there were also connectivity challenges for local college students, and that in a survey conducted last year, 27% of students at the college indicated that cellular and internet access at home was a barrier for them.
Representing the health care community was Dr. Ronald Pope, vice president of Medical Services at Columbia Memorial Hospital. He said the two biggest challenges for telehealth were the problems with out-of-state providers where billing and accreditation across state lines may not be in accordance, and also HIPAA privacy issue and internet provider privacy regulations.
“We are struggling to find alternatives that patients can use easily,” he said.
To contact U.S. Rep. Marc Molinaro, visit https://molinaro.house.gov/