Yesterday’s Rural Broadband Symposium in Catskill was a sham. No direct questions were allowed after the morning’s panel presentations; questions had to be submitted in writing. And even then, tough questions went unasked. The president of Mid-Hudson Cable showed his respect for the broadband issue by skipping the symposium altogether and sending a self-serving video instead.

Kathleen Whitley-Harm and Rosemary O’Brien, who comprise Greene County Citizens for Better Broadband, did seem sincere and passionate in their advocacy of the issue. But they have spent years to achieve modest gains in one Greene County town, Greenville. And since individual towns have their own individual contracts with “providers” and these town contracts are typically for 10 years or longer, such a piecemeal approach could take many, many years to produce worthwhile results for the county as a whole.

Congressman Gibson announced that yet another symposium on the subject will be held soon. That would be the third. Gibson will point to these symposia in this election year, and say progress is being made on an important issue. In fact, the symposia seem to be a stalling tactic on the part of the Congressman and our local “providers”. Talking about an issue does not, in itself, resolve it. But it does allow you to claim you are “doing something”.

Mid-Hudson Cable President James Reynolds was quoted in the Catskill Daily Mail nearly a year ago (4/27/2011) as saying, “Virtually all the areas are going to be done without the use of government funds.” This was after Mid-Hudson Cable declined $3.5 million in stimulus money to expand broadband services in Greene and Columbia Counties. It would have been natural to ask him, at this symposium, where that broadband build-out process stands one year later. But he was not in attendance. And the question itself was not permitted. (I asked it in writing, but moderator Warren Hart chose not to present it.)

The lack of adequate broadband coverage in our area is indeed a critical issue. But much bolder action than this sham symposium will be required to address it.