COOPERSTOWN, NY (WSKG) — Joined by Rep. Claudia Tenney (NY-22), officials and residents in Sherburne met to discuss options to expand broadband access to underserved residents in Chenango County and similar areas Tuesday.
The Village of Sherburne is pushing forward with plans to build out its own broadband infrastructure to provide residents with affordable internet connections with speeds far above the limited options that exist now.
“We’ve been trying to become future-proof,” Sherburne Mayor William Acee told the congresswoman. “Our system will allow one gigabyte of service, and probably for a lot less cost.”
That gap in internet service in rural Chenango County has left students, businesses and other entities behind compared to other communities with easy access to high-speed connections, if connected at all.
According to New York State’s mapping tool of available broadband infrastructure, Frontier is the only broadband provider in Sherburne, and its maximum download speed is 25 megabits per second (Mbps).
“They’re very low now,” Tenney said. “As you heard some of the people discussing. The school district has trouble with their teachers getting access to the students. Some of the hospitals and medical units have trouble getting access to people in the rural areas.”
The 25 Mbps speed is the minimum needed for companies to receive federal loans to build out broadband networks, but speeds that low aren’t enough to keep up with technology like video calls that have rapidly become necessary during the pandemic.
Tenney said she blames large corporations, like Spectrum, for holding monopolies over the sector and suggests large tech companies should pay more taxes as a result.
“Monopolies create exactly the problems you heard today—high prices, low quality,” Tenney said. “And in the broadband world it actually brings down our connectivity rates and then the people don’t have a choice and you have nowhere to go.”
Tenney said she has a “hostile” relationship with Spectrum, but accepted $5,000 from Charter Communications, the corporate name for Spectrum, in 2018.
Town of Sherburne Supervisor Charlie Mastro told attendees how his son wanted to move back to the area and work remotely, but said he ruled out that option because of the county’s poor internet service. Other leaders echoed the feeling that the lack of broadband is a detriment to the area’s population growth and retention.
“Broadband is a huge issue for us in this rural area because we think we can really bring back a lot of people, a lot of interest in our communities that have been lost to cities and other states,” Tenney added.
Sherburne-Earlville Central School District Superintendent Robert Berson said his students are at a deficit because of the lack of internet in their area.
“When our teachers can’t teach in a virtual platform, they can’t learn, they can’t compete,” Berson said. “We have students who can compete regionally and nationally, but if we’re at this deficit, they can’t.
Leaders of the Sherburne broadband infrastructure project said they hope they can expand services to more parts of Chenango County after outfitting Sherburne and the neighboring hamlet of Columbus.