Archives for category: HIgh-speed Bandwidth

Here in upstate New York, bad telecommunications service is taken for granted. Many areas lack wireless service. Most areas lack adequate broadband. And—something I hadn’t known—it turns out that New York State ranks third in the number of people with no telephone service whatsoever.

rotary dial telephone
Can we improve NY’s telecom infrastructure? Photo: Wikipedia.

Now someone is finally trying to do something about the state’s lagging telecommunications infrastructure. Last week, the Communications Workers of America, along with 16 other organizations including AARP, Common Cause, Consumers Union, Citizen Action, the Working Families Party and the NYS AFL-CIO,
filed a petition to the New York State Public Service Commission requesting a formal investigation of the state of the telecommunications industry.

The new Connect New York Coalition was joined by approximately 75 elected officials, including the Mayors of Syracuse, Rochester, Albany, Kingston and Poughkeepsie and many state assembly members and senators (though not Pete Lopez—no surprise there— or Cecilia Tkaczyk, which is a surprise).

The petition seeks to address these concerns:

  • The state’s unacceptably high ranking in the number of people with no phone service
  • A 500% increase in basic telephone service rates
  • Corporate plans—especially Verizon’s—to starve and abandon legacy landline service
  • The refusal of telecoms to expand broadband service to rural areas and many upstate cities
  • The steady deterioration in service quality and telecommunications infrastructure

This is very important stuff, and addressing it is long overdue. The quality of New York State’s telecommunications service has a direct impact on each individual citizen as well as the state’s overall economic well-being. The Connect New York Coalition’s petition to the Public Service Commission is a necessary first step toward improving telecom quality.

You can download a copy of the Coalition’s press release (in .docx format) here. For additional information, contact Dan Levitan of BerlinRosen Public Affairs, 646-200-5315 or dan@berlinrosen.com.

A December 4 article by Kyle Adams, one of the few local reporters I can stand to read, highlighted Greene County’s utter lack of progress in developing adequate broadband service. In fact, Greene’s record in this regard is so dismal that it warranted a visit from the federal government’s Government Accountability Office. The office is trying to determine the efficacy of the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Broadband Loan Program.

In Greene’s case, of course, that efficacy is non-existent. Zero. Zilch. This is true primarily because Mid-Hudson Cable (identified only as “a small telecommunications company” in Adams’s otherwise straightforward article) declined a Rural Utilities Service broadband loan.

According to Warren Hart, the County’s way-overdue-for-replacement director of Economic Development, Tourism and Planning, Mid-Hudson declined the federal loan because of “the high administrative burden involved”. “It was just too much for this small company,” Hart said.

Warren Hart points out a vast expanse of nothing.
Warren Hart points to a vast expanse of nothing.
Photo credit: Kyle Adams/Columbia-Greene Media.

As someone who recently paid Mid-Hudson several thousand dollars to run a cable to my house, I’d maintain that Mid-Hudson calculated it would be more profitable to continue its business as usual, where extending service to anyone not served under the sweetheart town contracts it’s negotiated requires that hapless new customer to pay through the nose for the privilege.

Hart went on to lament that the county’s scanty broadband infrastructure is a handicap compared to more urban counties (as though this were just a geographic fact of life, and not a consequence of decisions made or not made by the county’s business and political leadership). He was joined in his hand-wringing by Jeff Friedman, executive director of the Great Northern Catskills Chamber of Commerce, another organization not noted for its succcessful track record.

I’m not sure which is worse: the continued false promises of improved broadband service from Congressman Chris Gibson on down to politicos at the local level, or the continued absence of said broadband service, with no improvements on the horizon.

Wait, though—Warren Hart has a plan. “Plan A,” he said, is to marry wireless broadband Internet service to the emergency communications towers planned throughout the county. The first such tower, at Windham Mountain, is expected to be completed in spring 2014. It is being constructed to improve emergency communications, though, not to provide broadband service. Hart nevertheless “hopes it will” provide broadband service.

No Plan B was mentioned.

Now and then the local political scene produces a shining event, one that’s bright with the promise of better things to come. One such occurrence took place yesterday at Blue Stone Farm in Catskill, when New York State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk attended the Greene County Democratic Committee‘s annual picnic and promised to turn Greene County blue.

Even the weather joined in, with sunny blue skies and low humidity—perfect for attracting a large crowd. Well over 100 Democrats were in attendance and they applauded heartily as Tkaczyk and Greene County Committee Chair Doreen Davis outlined local Democratic priorities. The urgent need to supply local broadband service—an issue that Chris Gibson once tried to co-opt—was met with roars of approval. So too was the determination to tackle local issues that Davis recently outlined in the Daily Mail, issues like Greene’s high unemployment rate, poor health care delivery systems and lackluster economic development.

Since these are all issues this site has highlighted in the past, the afternoon generated plenty of optimism. And so did the presence of Tkaczyk and Davis, two of the brightest stars in the political firmament.

Now that we know U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson is going to be around for another couple of years, it’s time to take a look at what he’s been up to lately. In addition to voting “Yes” on legislation to avert the “fiscal cliff” (having earlier renounced his pledge to never raise taxes), Gibson sent a recent email to constituents outlining what he says are his top priorities.

These are (taken from the email):

1) “Address our country’s future fiscal solvency and enact policies that grow our economy and help hardworking Americans.” Sounds reasonable, if rather generic. Are further attacks on Social Security and Medicare subsumed in that “future fiscal solvency” phrase?

2) “Pass into law a full five-year farm bill that gives certainty to our family farms and allows them to remain a vibrant part of our local communities.” This speaks to the Representative’s constituency, but does little to address economic growth in the 19th Congressional District per se.

3) Lyme Disease.

4) Expanding access to broadband.

5) “Ensuring our veterans have the services and benefits they need….”

Which of these things is not like the others?

If you answered “Lyme Disease,” kudos to you. Lyme Disease has been rampant in upstate New York for a while now—that horse has left the barn. Combating its effects is a worthy thing to do, but perhaps not a top priority for a U.S. Congressman in an economically slumping district. As for expanding access to broadband, that too is a worthy goal, and something that would actually be of great economic benefit. It would be terrific if Gibson actually did something to address it this term, as opposed to holding meaningless symposia on the topic.

Except for the broadband item, which addresses economic growth indirectly, Gibson does not include improving the local economy as one of his top priorities. (Item no. 1 above is national in scope, and too generic to count.) That seems shortsighted, to say the least. But, it’s very early in the new year, and in Gibson’s new term. Let’s see what he does to address what he says are his priorities, paying particular attention to his efforts to expand access to broadband in the district.

Here’s another excellent and timely post from our Columbia County correspondent, Lee Jamison. She’s writing about the lack of genuine broadband options in our region, and what can be done about it. This is an issue that BlueInGreene will return to repeatedly as November approaches, since NY-19’s Democratic candidate for Congress Julian Schreibman is open to real solutions, rather than simply paying lip service to the crying need we have.

Lee’s post:

More faux-Broadband, this time from Fairpoint!

How many Stuyvesant residents got a huge postcard mailer in their box today touting:

Lightning fast 7Mbps Broadband Internet
Now with a price-lock guarantee for 18 months $29.95/month

Wait a second! I’m already a Fairpoint customer—so how come I don’t have 7Mbps?

I double checked my internet speed at http://www.SpeedMatters.org.
—4.7 Mbps for download
—.09 Mbps for upload

My speeds are worse than the averages for NYS, worse than averages for the entire USA (5.2Mbps). Japan (15.9 Mbps) and South Korea (20.4Mbps) leave everybody in the dust! Gasp! And here I thought the USA was #1 in all things techie?

So why don’t I have 7Mbps? My physics teacher friend, Christian, had the answer, “Read the fine print!”

Sure enough, there was fine print on that card:

“…taxes and additional charges may apply. Not all services available in all areas. Available speeds may vary depending on customer location. Speed and uninterrupted service are not guaranteed…”

Fairpoint reported losses of $46.7 million in the 1st quarter of 2012. Sound bad? It was better than 2011 4th quarter, when they lost $84 million.

Nevertheless, Stuyvesant does have fiber optic cable running along the CSX(Amtrak) Right-of-Way and Rt9—with no public access. Who uses it? Who paid for it to be put in? How do we get access? Wouldn’t it be good for business?

Ontario County, NY built their own “middle-mile” fiber optic cable system for an investment of around $5 million for a 200 mile ring.
Axcess Ontario Officially Complete | Community Broadband Networks

Anybody think the Board of Supervisors might ask some questions?

Rural Electrification went through Congress in 1936 during the Great Depression. Surely our Congress could manage real Rural Broadband for the economic development of Hudson Valley. Even our current Tea Party Congressman says he’s for Rural Broadband. But we need more than just lip service to make it happen, and we probably need healthier, better managed companies than Fairpoint.

—Lee

Julian Schreibman held another “meet & greet” this past Sunday, at the Brik Gallery on Main Street in Catskill. It was an apt setting—Main Street had rebounded and was doing fairly well prior to the financial crisis; now it is a collection of largely empty storefronts where businesses, restaurants and galleries used to be (including Brik). This made Main Street an ideal setting for the recent, innovative “Wall Street to Main Street” exhibition put on by the Greene County Council on the Arts in collaboration with the artistic wing of Occupy Wall Street. Many of the window displays from that recently concluded exhibition remain, as the photo below demonstrates.

The Writing's on the Wall (or Window)
The Writing’s on the Wall (or Window)
Photo: John P. O’Grady

Mr. Schreibman spoke movingly, as though inspired by the reduced state of the street outside. He railed against America’s growing economic inequality, and vowed to do everything he could to address it. He also:

  • Spoke in favor of the DREAM Act
  • Firmly renounced fracking as bad for New York
  • Emphatically renounced policies of torture and rendition in America’s endless wars (this, in reply to an inquiry about his CIA background, which had nothing to do with field activities)
  • Explained how grateful he was for the help he received in getting a good (Yale) education, and described his belief that every American should be entitled to a chance at the same opportunities he had
  • Denounced our current Republican Congressman for voting against the interests of the 19th District
  • Announced strong support for new policies to stimulate economic growth in our region, including support for family farms and a strategic rural broadband initiative

It was another strong performance by a candidate whose appeal only continues to grow.

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.

Elaine Fernandez of WiThePeople.com has put together an excellent video interview highlighting BlueInGreene’s principles, objectives and plans. If you’d like a brief introduction to what our group is all about, Elaine’s video—complete with visual aids and theme music—is an ideal place to start. The video is available on WiThePeople’s home page.

Chris Gibson’s Record (in part)

1. When he is in the district, he talks about getting Federal aid for flood victims from agencies such as FEMA. In Washington, he votes against all FEMA appropriations.
2. When in the district he talks about jobs. In Washington, he votes for tax cuts for large corporations and the rich – giving them money they invest overseas to take jobs away from Americans.
3. When in the district, he says he is in favor of expanding broadband coverage throughout rural areas. In Washington, he has done nothing to push this, and has voted against stimulus moneys that could be used for broadband expansion.
4. He consistently votes to restrict women’s rights.
5. He only votes against the wishes of his party’s leaders when they give him permission to do so and already have the votes they need, even when their positions hurt the district and its citizens. In short, he represents big corporations and lobbyists, and not us.

Greene County town supervisors have long been out of touch when it comes to broadband service in their communities. Nowhere is this more evident than in an article in today’s Catskill Daily Mail, in which Durham Town Supervisor William Carr Jr. is quoted as saying “We have decent coverage”.

What does Supervisor Carr consider to be “decent”? The fact the 58% of the roads in his town—representing, he says, 70% of the population—have access to cable broadband coverage. He gleaned this fact from a visit to the offices of Mid-Hudson Cabelevision in Catskill, where they “were happy to show me site maps” detailing the town’s coverage. Mid-Hudson Cablevision is the same firm that declined over $3 million in Federal stimulus money to expand broadband coverage in the area, citing increased labor costs, among other considerations.

Carr’s “decent coverage” attitude is typical of town officials throughout the county, where coverage is inadequate to begin with and little effort is made to press Mid-Hudson Cablevision or other providers to do better. Concerned Citizens for Better Broadband, led by Kathleen Whitley-Harm of Freehold and Rosemary O’Brien of Oak Hill, have been working for years now to improve broadband service in the county.

However, Supervisor Carr’s misplaced optimism in Durham is a sign of how far there still is to go. As Ms. Whitley-Harm notes, “Our mission has always been 100% broadband coverage for everyone in Greene County, and we believe our elected leaders should be working in the best interests of their communities by doing everything in their power to ensure all residents have equal access”. We at BlueInGreene could not agree more. We simply must do better.

Please add your comments in support of Concerned Citizens for Better Broadband in the comments section at the end of the Daily Mail article, here. Or click the comment balloon at left to add your comments to our site.

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