The following is a statement from Legislator Rachel Barnhart (D-21):
I look forward to reviewing the County’s announcement that it plans to invest $6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding into broadband.
Based upon the County’s press release, I have concerns with the plan to build a wireless network in portions of the City of Rochester.
The wireless network could offer much-needed competition in the market for paying customers, which is a good thing. Thousands of households and small businesses will have access to $29 a month high speed internet. That’s a game-changer.
But the plan falls short because we must remove as many barriers as possible to residents experiencing poverty and financial hardship.
The County may argue that residents can qualify for internet that is effectively free, as they can apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which covers the cost of a $30 monthly subscription. But this ignores the fact that uptake of this program is lagging across the country because it’s hard to enroll. In addition, Congress has to reauthorize funds for the ACP in 2024, so it’s not clear if the program will be around for Rochester residents.
I strongly encourage the County to require the service providers to directly enroll residents in ACP. Further, Monroe County must have a plan in place if the ACP sunsets.
The fixed wireless technology being used for the city network could face pressures if there is high demand, and I will be asking about maintenance to the network and plans to ensure speeds remain robust into the future.
Had the County consulted with the Advisory Task Force on Broadband, on which I serve, this feedback could have been given while this proposal was being developed.
Instead, the Legislature will be considering a proposal that helps our rural residents long term via the monopoly cable provider, while putting in place a short-term plan for communities that have experienced disinvestment for decades.