Internet as a necessity: $670M set aside for broadband access in New York State

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GENESEE COUNTY, N.Y. – President Biden announced Monday that a whopping $40 billion has been earmarked to improve internet access across the nation. New York State will be getting $670 million of that federal funding to boost their internet.

During a stop in Genesee County Monday morning, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the funds, calling it New York’s largest internet investment. The money comes as part of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which brings national necessities like clean water, quality roads, and reliable internet to all.

That includes the roughly 2,200-person town of Pavilion in Genesee County. Town Supervisor Robert LaPoint says that before the pandemic, internet access was rough at best for folks out there.

“We’re talking about very, very spotty service. Essentially not much better than dial-up,” he said.

Pavilion is nestled between Buffalo and Rochester. While beautiful, the roughly 800 homes are very isolated, like many small towns across the state.

“So most folks around here, when they don’t have broadband they have to just rely on their phones,” LaPoint said. “But our cell phone coverage is not the best, there’s dead spots down here, so some folks just have no option.”

Following the pandemic, getting internet to all homes in Pavilion (and Genesee County) has been a priority for LaPoint and other municipal leaders.

“We’re living in the information age, it’s absolutely an essential service, just the same as electricity or water,” he said.

Genesee County leaders calculated that bringing internet to every home currently lacking would cost the county a little over $7 million. While they county had planned to cut funding elsewhere to pay for it, the $640 million from the feds means that the county may not have to.

“Will this be enough money to cover everybody? Pretty close,” Schumer said.

He added that if there are still homes in New York without affordable broadband access once the project is over, there is some leftover funding to fill in any gaps. Money that Schumer said he finds well spent.

“Broadband is how you go to work, how you stay connected with loved ones, get an education, or even receive your healthcare,” Schumer said.

LaPoint added that another bonus from high-speed internet access – remote workers. Bolstering internet in places like Pavilion allows remote workers in high-tech jobs to consider an otherwise rural lifestyle. LaPoint himself takes advantage of this: In addition to his role as town supervisor, LaPoint works as a freelance programmer. That’s something that would be impossible without his high-speed internet access.

“It gives everyone more options and it allows a more diverse set of residents to live in more areas,” LaPoint said.

While Genesee and other counties have slowly been bringing broadband to rural towns like Pavilion, this funding brings all of New York State closer to complete coverage in the next few years.

“Just like now, just about everybody has access to electricity, within a few years, everybody will have access to good, highspeed broadband,” Schumer said.