ITHACA, N.Y.—Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) took to the lectern at Dryden Town Hall on Wednesday afternoon, flanked by officials from the Town of Dryden, with a simple message: go to broadbandmap.fcc.gov and check to see how wrongly the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has gauged your access to broadband internet.

To emphasize the message, Schumer even slowly spelled out the URL, but since this is a reading medium we can spare that part of the process. The deadline for feedback is this week—Friday, Jan. 13.

Schumer urged people to check the map at the aforementioned link, type in their address and assess if the FCC has accurate information regarding their access to broadband. If the map is wrong (such as if it says an address has broadband access, but it actually doesn’t), residents should fill out a brief “challenge” form to inform the FCC of the problem.

“We know this is a problem in Tompkins County and in the Southern Tier,” Schumer said. “This puts our rural communities at a disadvantage. People don’t want to live there, businesses don’t want to locate there if they can’t get internet service. […] Franklin Roosevelt said that we have to have every home have electricity, because it was a necessity by the 1930s. We say that the same occurs in the 21st century with broadband internet. It’s a necessity for your kids learning in school, it’s a necessity for healthcare, it’s a necessity for small businesses and jobs.”

Schumer insisted that the challenges would be “thoroughly reviewed” by the FCC and that the more valid challenges there are in a given area, the more obvious the need is for a larger piece of the $42 billion in the infrastructure bill that has already been approved for broadband deployment (with another $14 billion allocated to help those who have access to broadband geographically but can’t financially afford service). How much Tompkins County receives depends on the maps, Schumer said, but it would be in the “millions and millions of dollars,” which would be disbursed by June.

If followed, the message could help cure one of the most prominent issues in Tompkins County. Though large swaths of the county do not have reliable broadband internet despite its fairly essential importance to daily life in 2023, the FCC believes that 100 percent of the county has household access to broadband internet. Anyone who lives here is obviously aware that is untrue, but the FCC’s methodology in gauging broadband access is flawed enough to the point that the maps are very misguided.

For instance, here is a portion of the map that currently shows what the FCC believes to be broadband coverage in this region. The areas in blue have broadband access, according to the FCC.

“Bringing broadband to every home, particularly to rural areas which don’t get it, has been a priority for me as [Senate] Majority Leader, that’s one of the goals,” Schumer said. Those who can’t access the internet to check the map should go to a friend or library with access, he said.

The bill providing the funding Schumer is seeking has already been approved, but the impending deadline determines how much funding goes where.

“That is going to determine how many dollars are invested throughout New York State as well, in places like Tompkins County, the Southern Tier, where there’s a shortage,” Schumer said. “We’re asking families across Tompkins County, across the Southern Tier, across all of upstate New York, to check the map. There are maps that list who gets broadband and who doesn’t, but many of those maps are faulty. In the old days, the [internet] companies liked to exaggerate how many people got broadband, so they put more people on the map than actually got it. Now, the maps that are being sent by New York State to the FCC, we want to make sure they’re accurate.”

Schumer touted that the individual feedback will help strengthen Schumer’s push to funnel more money to Tompkins County to help expand broadband access. One of the most prominent recipients of that aid could be Dryden Fiber, the plan led by Dryden leaders Jason Leifer and Dan Lamb to establish a municipal broadband network that would connect all Town of Dryden residents via fiber optics cable to broadband internet at a lower monthly cost than current internet providers—Spectrum provides the vast majority of internet in the area.

Schumer celebrated Dryden’s plan, emphasizing its importance and how it is evidence of the drastic need for broadband internet in the area.

“Like the senator, we see broadband service as infrastructure rather than a commodity,” Lamb said, thanking Schumer for his contributions to getting the infrastructure bill passed. “We want our residents to be able to participate in this, and we know low-income people, by and large, don’t have access to this because they simply can’t afford it. It’s an equity issue.”

From left to right: Jennifer Gregory of the Southern Tier 8 Regional Board, Planning and Sustainability Commissioner Katie Borgella, Dryden Deputy Town Supervisor Dan Lamb, Dryden Town Supervisor Jason Leifer, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Tompkins County Legislature Chair Shawna Black, Tompkins County Legislator Mike Lane. (Not pictured: Tompkins County Legislator Greg Mezey)

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com