In an attempt to identify the availability, reliability and cost of high-speed internet service across the state, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday announced the launch of a first-ever, in-depth statewide broadband mapping study.
According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in December 2018, even though 80% of households in Erie and Niagara counties are online, low-income pockets of Buffalo, Lockport and Niagara Falls have fallen off the grid. Most notable for its lack of high-speed internet access, according to a January 2019 Buffalo News article, has been the Broadway-Fillmore district on Buffalo's East Side, where fewer than two in five homes were reported to have internet on some blocks.
The White House last week introduced an interactive map of the nation's broadband dead zones, and it is enough to make a lot of Western New Yorkers see red.
"High-speed internet is the great equalizer in today's world because it is essential in accessing basic services and information that we all need in our daily lives," Hochul said in a statement Monday.
"With this groundbreaking study, we will help ensure that every part of the state – regardless of geographical and economic factors – has access to high-speed broadband," she added.
In an effort to meet the challenge ensuring of equal access, the state Public Service Commission will identify areas at a census block level that are served by a single provider and assess if there any state regulatory or statutory barriers to delivering comprehensive access to high-speed internet.
It is now dubbed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act.
The commission will also review whatever technology to best support high-speed internet service in underserved communities, and make recommendations on ensuring deployment of such technology in those areas. In addition, the commission will identify areas where local governments have alleged non-compliance with franchise agreements and instances of commission or department enforcement actions that have had a direct effect on internet access, according to the governor's office.
Back in 2019, Luis Taveras, the City of Buffalo's chief information officer, announced plans to begin advocating for free, citywide public Wi-Fi to advance what he called "digital inclusion.”
"Western New York is pockmarked with deeper 'digital deserts' – largely urban, low-income neighborhoods where more than half of all households do not have home internet or cellular data plans, despite being wired for them," Taveras said at the time.
Once the Public Service Commission completes its survey, it will produce and publish on its website a detailed internet access map of the state, indicating access to internet service by address. According to the governor's office, it also will include download and upload speeds; their consistency and reliability, including latency; the types of internet service and technologies available including dial-up, broadband, wireless, fiber, coaxial, or satellite; the number of internet service providers available, the price of internet service available; and any other factors the commission may deem relevant.
The governor's office said the federal government is engaged in a similar study, but the timeline for its completion is murky.
Unlike previous federal maps, which have been sharply criticized for their lack of specificity and accuracy, New York's interactive map will focus on the status of broadband service at the address level, state officials said.
The commission will publicly issue its report and recommendations by May 2022.
In addition, two public hearings will be held to solicit input from the public, internet service providers, telecommunications companies, labor unions, public safety organizations, healthcare, education, agricultural and other businesses or organizations. Hearing dates and locations will be announced later.