How New York could pick up the pace on broadband expansion

Fiber optic network cables on rails.
Fiber optic network cables on rails.
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Fiber optic network cables on rails.

How New York could pick up the pace on broadband expansion

State Sen. Joseph Griffo on what the state needs to do to be more competitive.
May 18, 2018

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have made it a priority to expand broadband access to more New Yorkers, which they say is critical for education, equity and economic development.

But some lawmakers say New York isn’t doing enough. In a Q&A, state Sen. Joseph Griffo, the chairman of the state Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, suggests ways the state could do better.

C&S: What is the tech industry like in New York? Could it one day compare to Silicon Valley or more recently in Boston?

JG: From a tech perspective, I would say I am hopeful. I think we have the resources to become a very competitive economy in tech. Particularly when you look at our centers of learning, our institutions of higher education; we have some of the best in the nation. The infrastructure is in place from a higher education perspective, from a research perspective, from an economic incentive perspective. The Empire State Development Corp. is willing and ready to engage. So now, I would hope that – the other thing that would make it – we’re working on workforce development. So I think that from a multifaceted perspective, the ingredients are in place. Now the question is how does the industry evolve and what is the industry looking for beyond that.

C&S: How are the efforts to expand broadband to underserved parts of the state going?

JG: I would say it’s moving too slowly and not as smoothly as it could and should be. First and foremost, one of my concerns is, are we really getting into the unserved areas as quickly as we need to? And then shoring up the underserved areas before we continue to go into some of the more competitive markets. And that’s one of the challenges and one of the problems that I have even with some of the companies – that obviously they’re for-profit companies looking to be successful. We also want to see competition in many of these communities across the state to ensure that people have a choice and they are being given the best opportunity from a broadband perspective in making that choice. And in the end, I still think there are a lot of areas that are neglected, and obviously the objective here in contemporary society is that everyone should have this opportunity. This is no longer a luxury, but actually a part of being able to function in 21st century society, that these access opportunities need to exist.

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Senator Joseph Griffo
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Senator Joseph Griffo
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Senator Joseph Griffo
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Senator Joseph Griffo
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Senator Joseph Griffo
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Courtesy New York Senate
C&S: Does the state need to make deals with multiple companies to expand in the same area to bring competition?

JG: Yeah, we’re a capitalistic society and I believe that competition and choice for the consumer is beneficial. But we also have to look in areas that are unserved, and it may not be financially feasible for some of these companies to go in. So there’s got to be a myriad of an approach here in trying to ensure that we fulfill the mission, and the mission is to have access to broadband across the state. More opportunities for choice and competition could be beneficial to the consumer. But again, in some cases, you need to look at it a little differently because if you’re in an unserved rural area, you may have to work on some incentivizing in order to get somebody to do what needs to be done.

C&S: Is there any particular legislation that’s working its way through the state Senate that would address some of these issues?

JG: There are a number of members who have ideas and I’m not sure about all of the legislation that’s been introduced at this point because the committee will be reviewing that. But I think there is a general consensus that this is an important issue, it is a proper priority and it is deserving of incentivizing through partnerships and public funds. But I think that, again, you want to make sure, and I can’t speak for all the members here, but I think accountability is important here, and transparency in the process to know how it’s being done, what is being done, what is the benefit that has been derived thus far. So I think those kinds of assessments are going to be ongoing, those evaluations and assessments.

Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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