Congresswoman Tenney: More must be done to deliver quality, affordable broadband to rural NY

Up to the Minute

From the office of Congresswoman Claudia Tenney:

Washington, DC – Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY-22), member of the House Small Business Committee, today in a hearing focused on broadband infrastructure expressed her concern for consumers in Upstate New York who are subject to a virtual Spectrum Cable monopoly that limits their broadband options. The full exchange between Tenney and hearing witness Peggy Schaffer of the ConnectMaine Authority can be read below or watched above.

Congresswoman Tenney recently released a plan to expand broadband access, which would unleash private sector innovation to foster competition and bring costs down while boosting resources for rural and underserved communities. You can read more about the plan here.

Tenney: Thank you so much Chairman Golden and Ranking Member Hagedorn, for holding this important meeting today and thank you to the witnesses for your time and your insight.
As we’ve heard today, your internet connection can determine your destiny. Nothing shapes our ability to access education, healthcare, and employment opportunities like access to rural broadband. The COVID-19 pandemic has only driven home this point. Americans have never relied more heavily on reliable, accessible, and affordable internet than they do today. 

Throughout New York’s 22nd Congressional District, there are far too many communities who do not have access to reliable broadband. The digital divide is even more great when you consider our children have less access to education, our seniors have less connectivity with their doctors, and our business meetings are few and far between because we are always spooling on our lack of access to the internet.  

To make matters worse, this I think is a critical issue, Upstate New York is subject to a broadband monopoly in New York. New York State, under Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature, agreed to a cable consolidation plan under an agreement with Spectrum, which they claimed would expand and improve service. 

However, the State and New York State’s Public Service Commission have absolutely failed to enforce the agreement. This has left too many rural customers in my district with nonexistent broadband service, or service that is far too expensive. Just this week alone, Spectrum has raised their rates, and (raised rates) seven times in just a few years on New Yorkers.

The only solution is to increase competition in our internet marketplace. This means enacting policies that steer investment to smaller upstart providers and reducing barriers to entry. We must also encourage networks that can host multiple internet service providers so someone’s geography does not limit their choice. I think we can work on closing this internet gap and provide choice once and for all to Upstate New Yorkers. 

One thing I wanted to ask, Ms. Schaffer I wanted to ask you this because you pointed out a couple of things about getting access to internet. I first wanted to ask you how the FCC data on broadband coverage how it effects speeds is often inaccurate. These maps are often pivotal to determining if a project is eligible for federal funding. This was raised to me in a recent broadband hearing I had in my own town of Sherburne New York where our business is located. From what your experiences are, can Congress work with the FCC to resolve this? And can we give some of this determination on where we are going to allow speeds, can we give that back to our local communities?Schaffer: Yes, and yes. So, the FCC map is based on advertised speed by census block where one home in a census block is served then the entire census block is considered served. There are census blocks in rural America that are many hundreds of miles, and if one location is served or could be reasonably be served, then that entire census block is served, and it is no longer eligible for federal funding. That really shuts off an opportunity for that area to get funding. They have to then rely on either local funding or state funding to fill that hole. Really to get these projects done you need a capital stack – you need some federal money, some state money, some local money, you need some ISP money. That’s really how rural America is going to get served. One of the things I recommended in my testimony is moving a lot of these federal funds to state programs because state programs are much more responsive to what’s happening. Our state has a broadband standard of 100 over 100 and an unserved standard of 50 over 10. So, we have recognized the importance of connectivity, and if federal funding flows to states, then states can really craft projects with the local people that meets the local solutions and deals with many of these issues.

Tenney: I want to emphasize, that I am concerned about the situation in New York State where we continue to put millions of dollars into providing a virtual monopoly to Spectrum Cable, which has been a huge problem. When I served in the state assembly, there was a former Congressman named Chris Gibson in my other district. We put tons of money into broadband and it didn’t go anywhere but to these large entities, and now we continue to have a problem with rural broadband. My question is how do we get the local governments to be able to participate in this? The village of Sherburne has been designated as a test site to allow this municipal concept that is part of the infrastructure bill that President Biden has proposed, but also give choice and an opportunity for our consumers to choose their internet and to have access to broadband?

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