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Ortt, local lawmakers call for repeal of broadband expansion fee

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Thu, Oct 8th 2020 10:15 am

Legislators from Orleans, Niagara counties says it will hurt internet efforts in rural areas

New York State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt was joined by Orleans County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson and Niagara County Legislator Dave Godfrey at a press conference Thursday morning, calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to repeal a fee on broadband installers they said could threaten the expansion of broadband into under-served rural communities.

Ortt explained a new fee on broadband installers was approved in the New York state budget in April. It requires the Department of Transportation to collect new fees from companies that build lines in state right-of-ways or under highways. Ortt said that, if this initial fee isn’t bad enough, it also requires these companies to then pay an annual fee per foot of broadband, which calls into question the economic feasibility of expanding in rural areas where fewer customers make it more difficult to recoup the cost of such fees.

“Access to quality internet has never been more important, as most school students are doing some, if not all, of their learning remotely, many adults remain working from home, and telemedicine continues to expand,” Ortt said. “This puts rural communities with poor internet connectivity at a major disadvantage. Albany Democrats’ new broadband tax will only widen access gaps between our urban, suburban and rural communities by increasing costs in expanding broadband to our unserved communities. This unnecessary, irresponsible charge should be immediately repealed.”

The Niagara Orleans Rural Alliance, led by legislators from both counties, has been working on the rural broadband issue for close to seven years and has been making progress, according to Johnson, who is also co-chair of NORA.

“We have some significant achievements, including being able to bring community Wi-Fi hotspots to many public buildings in rural communities, but that is just a short-term solution,” she said. “We had a firm that was interested in running a major line through Orleans County that would have significantly improved internet service for our residents, but this new fee caused that firm to step back. It’s very disappointing that downstate legislators would ram through this new fee in the state budget with no understanding of its consequences on rural communities.”

Godfrey, the other NORA co-chair, said this fee works at cross purposes with the governor’s “Broadband for All” program, which was created to help address the rural broadband issue.

“On one hand, state government provides incentives for rural broadband because they recognize the fact that, without such a program, internet service providers will not put the infrastructure into rural communities,” he said. “Yet, they then pass legislation to increase fees on these very same providers, negating the incentives. I’ve been in talks with many service providers working on this issue for years and I know how tough it is to make these projects feasible. I am very thankful that Sen. Ortt is the voice of reason in Albany and is fighting for the repeal of this ill-considered policy.”

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