COVID-19 has exposed many weaknesses in our society. One of the most glaring weaknesses is the fact that not everyone has access to the internet. This must change. Right now, our children are required to complete the school year from home, many of us must work from home, and many people need to access counseling services, government services, and medical services remotely. This inequity hurts people in rural communities the most.
While people who live in cities like Ithaca can get connected to the internet if they can afford to pay the high prices, many people who live outside of cities like Ithaca don’t have that option. Communities such as Lansing, Dryden, Newfield, Caroline, Danby, Harford, Ulysses, Virgil, Groton, and Lapeer do not have complete coverage. Where these communities do have coverage, people often must choose between the local monopoly, Spectrum, or services such as satellite or DSL that are not high-speed broadband services.
In Dryden, I proposed eliminating this inequity by building a municipally-owned fiber-to-the-home system. We already provide municipal water and sewer services to some residents, so this is not a new idea. For years, our neighboring Village of Groton has benefited from a municipally-owned electrical grid. Before moving forward, we conducted a feasibility study that included a survey of town residents. An overwhelming majority of residents support the idea.
Our study showed that it is feasible to build a fiber-to-the-home system even if we did not capture 100 percent of the market share. One of the most promising revelations of the study is that a municipally-owned fiber-to-the-home system ultimately would generate revenue for the Town of Dryden. In my opinion, building municipal broadband is a win-win situation.
Municipal broadband works in other places across the country and would work in New York State, too. Municipalities can provide better service at a lower cost while keeping service fees local. Municipal broadband is the best way to level the technological playing field for everyone while providing a fiscally responsible solution. In addition, once the construction costs are paid off, municipalities will have a new revenue stream that won’t rely on property taxes.
If I am elected to the Assembly, I will be proposing that as a State we stop leaving people behind and make it easier for municipalities to rise to the challenge and build and own their own broadband internet systems. We cannot demand that people work from home, educate their children from home, access government services from home, or even seek medical attention from home if we do not provide the means for them to do so. By continuing our reliance on the telecommunications industry to get the job done, we fail as a society to ensure that everyone has access to this essential service. The time to act on a statewide basis is now.
Jason Leifer, Esq.
Dryden town supervisor and candidate for New York State Assembly District 125