WASHINGTON — Parts of New York are now eligible for broadband funding, the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, saying the FCC would include areas of New York to be eligible for the first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a national initiative to invest in the disparities in rural broadband.
“Closing the digital divide is my top priority,” Pai wrote. “I have seen for myself what affordable high-speed internet access can do for a community — for its families, its schools, its hospitals, its farms, its businesses — as well as the impact of its absence.”
The FCC released on Jan. 14 a list of 48 states with locations deemed eligible to receive Phase I Rural Digital Opportunity Fund awards, to be voted on later by the entire FCC at the end of the month. New York did not make the list that would make it eligible for $16 billion in funding, to the dismay of many of its elected officials.
A cohort of 22 New York congressional members, including Stefanik and U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, quickly sent a letter to the FCC expressing concern that the state was not included in its original list of eligible locations.
The decision to include New York for consideration was applauded by those same members.
“The FCC reversing their decision to categorically exclude New York is an important step in the right direction, as this will open the door to much needed investment in the areas of North Country that still lack broadband connectivity,” Stefanik said in a statement Thursday. “However, the FCC’s treatment of areas without high-speed access despite some state investment will be central to the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund fulfilling its goal of truly closing the digital divide.”
Delgado agreed with Stefanik, saying in a statement that the inclusion in the first phase is just the first step.
“Of paramount importance will be the FCC’s treatment of regions that lack qualifying broadband service despite having received some degree of state support,” he said Thursday.
The disparity in broadband access between rural and urban areas is significant. According to the FCC Broadband Deployment Report of 2019, more than 25% of rural residents don’t have access to sufficient internet speeds, compared to less than 2% of urban residents.
According to the New York State Broadband Program Office, 98% of New Yorkers have access to broadband. But the number is known to be an extreme overestimate because of mapping flaws. If one home within a census block has access to broadband services, the entire block is marked as served, according to the office.
Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.