Audit finds too many New Yorkers without high-speed broadband access

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) – Empire State Development’s new NY broadband program has fallen short of meeting its goals, according to an audit by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on Friday.

The program was created in 2015 to make high-speed (100 megabits per second or Mbps) broadband service “universal” in all but the most remote areas of the state by 2018. ESD’s Broadband Program Office (BPO) manages the program, which was funded with $735 million in mostly state funds but also included private and federal matching dollars.

“The New NY Broadband Program did not meet its goal to close the internet gap because of poor planning and execution,” DiNapoli said. “As my office’s audit found, the program took years longer than promised and supplied many communities with slow, satellite-based internet that is inadequate for today’s needs. The state is now embarking on another effort to provide all New Yorkers with broadband access called ConnectALL and it is my hope it learns from the issues we found in this audit so they are not repeated.”

The money was targeted to bring access to 255,994 unserved and underserved households. Due to delays, as of March 2021, not all of those households had received access to service, and nearly one-third of the households that were connected to broadband—78,690 households in remote areas—were given broadband access using satellite technology, which has a maximum download speed of 25 Mbps and whose signal can be weakened by rain or snow.

The audit notes that in most cases that speed is not adequate for today’s commonplace needs, and especially so in homes or businesses with multiple devices connected to the internet that are being used at once. Although many households were connected, many were not by the 2018 completion deadline, with more than half of the program’s 126 projects delayed by as long as 48 months.

According to the audit, nine projects under the program still await completion. Four of those programs affect 12,400 households and aren’t projected to have access until December 2022.

The Broadband Program Office also noted that 14,000 households in NY remain unserved or underserved for broadband access as of March 2021–most of these were households that were mistakenly deemed to have access based on Federal Communications Commission data.

DiNapoli’s audit recommended that ESD and BPO:

• Work with ISPs to complete outstanding projects as soon as possible;
• Use a disclaimer when reporting the percentage of broadband availability in the state to reflect limitations in the data’s accuracy; and
• Ensure that future state-funded projects are based on accurate broadband availability data; and that technologies that provide high-speed, reliable internet are used.

The full audit can be read below:

New NY Broadband Program Audit by News10NBC