WASHINGTON COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – When Washington County Economic Development Director Laura Oswald looks at the stats on county homes that do not yet have broadband internet access, she separates them into two types. First, there are those that are not yet getting broadband in the rural county, but which will be reached by plans already in motion. Those plans revolve around state and federal funds set aside for getting communities connected.
The other type is the 1,200-1,500 homes in the county’s far reaches which that money will not help. Oswald, who spearheads the effort to extend broadband access across all of Washington County, says that it could cost between $7-10 million to get 99% of the county covered.
“Both at the federal and state levels, there’s a lot of emphasis on digital equity and multiple choices,” said Oswald on Friday. “My stance is that we’re representing people who don’t have a choice.”
On Tuesday, Oswald came before the Washington County Agriculture, Planning, Tourism and Development Committee to share those numbers. The New York State Broadband for All program are still ongoing – meaning that some of Washington County’s roughly 28.9K households will eventually access broadband through it. The program’s goal is to get the state 100% connected to high-speed internet. Verizon and SLIC are the companies responsible for the ongoing efforts, estimated to finish next month.
Those 1,200-1,500 other homes are ones that the program funding will not reach – and the newly-formed state ConnectALL program still has a ways to go. Oswald and her team determined the number by looking at their own infrastructure map – another project that took a lot of time and effort to create – and looking within a 500-foot radius of it. By contrast, Broadband for All reaches homes within 300 feet of those spots. Some individual internet providers will begin to charge more if a home is as little as 100 feet from a broadband line.
Another problem is when it will all happen. The Broadband for All program is nearly finishing its work in Washington County, seven years in. The ConnectALL program is brand new – its office was just created at the start of the year by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, and has four subprograms to flesh out and unroll. That means a difficult reality for Oswald, and the residents her department wants to reach.
“My hope is this is going to go a lot fast than 7 years,” Oswald said. “Realistically, though, unless we find Federal funding, it may take 3 or 4 years – even though we know who these people are, and where they are.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Oswald said the town of Jackson had the most homes without broadband, at 180. Other high rankers included Argyle (157), Granville (150), Fort Ann (128) and Hartford (100), with other towns and villages coming in at smaller numbers.
If the county does have to seek out Federal funding to reach the final 1,200+ homes, Oswald isn’t sure what that looks like yet. It’s unclear this early what kinds of programs will be released when. The Federal Communications Commission is currently working on a broadband mapping process – something Washington County has already done for its own region. The Federal map isn’t due until the end of 2022, which means no help until at least next year.
“It makes sense,” said Oswald. “Why would you release money and not have a clue as to who might or might not be eligible? It’s a timing issue. We know there will be federal funding, we just don’t know how soon.”