Bet­ter ac­cess to broadband In­ter­net eyed

The Record (Troy, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Paul Post ppost@dig­i­tal­first­media.com @paul­v­post on Twit­ter

NORTHUM­BER­LAND, N.Y. » Sev­eral Saratoga County farms are renowned in­ter­na­tion­ally for their work in dairy ge­net­ics and quite of­ten host vis­i­tors from Germany to Ja­pan.

While amazed at such high­tech ad­vance­ments, guests are sur­prised at the lack of lo­cal In­ter­net ser­vice, which is crit­i­cal to con­duct­ing busi­ness in to­day’s 21st cen­tury econ­omy.

A bill, re­cently in­tro­duced by U.S. Rep. Elise Ste­fanik, R-Wills­boro, calls for ex­pand­ing ru­ral broadband by of­fer­ing fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives to firms that pro­vide such ser­vice. Also, farm­ers wish­ing to ap­ply for loans to cover ad­di­tional in­stal­la­tion costs would find their ap­pli­ca­tions pri­or­i­tized un­der the Ru­ral Elec­tri­fi­ca­tion Act.

“I do busi­ness all over the world, and it’s slow,” said Wil­lard Peck, Wel­come Stock Farm’s co-owner and Northum­ber­land town su­per­vi­sor. “I don’t have high-speed In­ter­net. When folks walk in my of­fice to see things on the com­puter, they stand there and watch it think­ing and spin­ning, and can’t be­lieve I can live like that.”

“Hard line ca­ble for In­ter­net ser­vice is very lim­ited here,” he

said. “Try­ing to get ex­pan­sion in our town has been an on­go­ing strug­gle.”

Lack of In­ter­net ser­vice also puts school kids at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage, and neg­a­tively af­fects prop­erty val­ues, Peck said.

“If you’re with­out high-speed In­ter­net, the value of your house isn’t in­creas­ing at the same rate as oth­ers,” he said. “It’s a le­git­i­mate ar­gu­ment.”

Ste­fanik rep­re­sents the 21st Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, stretch­ing from Canada to Saratoga County. It’s com­prised of many small ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and re­mote ar­eas where broadband isn’t avail­able.

“Broadband ac­cess is crit­i­cal to com­pet­ing in a 21st cen­tury econ­omy in al­most every sec­tor,” she said. “In my vis­its at farms across the North Coun­try, farm­ers have dis­cussed with me how the In­ter­net has the power to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the agri­cul­ture sec­tor. For in­stance, a dairy farmer from Pots­dam who spoke with my of­fice uses broadband to au­to­mate feed­ing plans for his cows.”

Ste­fanik first in­tro­duced her bill, called the Pre­ci­sion Farm­ing Act, in the 114th Congress that ended Jan. 3, 2017. How­ever, it didn’t gain trac­tion, so she rein­tro­duced the mea­sure on Nov. 7.

Pre­ci­sion farm­ing is the prac­tice of us­ing the in­ter­net to in­crease ef­fi­ciency through data analysis and au­to­ma­tion. But many farms can’t take ad­van­tage of such tech­nolo­gies be­cause of lim­ited broadband in­fra­struc­ture in their com­mu­ni­ties, Ste­fanik said.

Com­pa­nies that pro­vide such ser­vice would be el­i­gi­ble for a one-time $15,000 re­im­burse­ment for each line in­stalled for a qual­i­fy­ing pre­ci­sion farm­ing op­er­a­tion.

“This leg­is­la­tion will en­cour­age the con­struc­tion of ru­ral broadband con­nec­tions to farms by al­low­ing providers to re­ceive re­im­burse­ments for the costs re­lated to con­struc­tion,” Ste­fanik said. “Fur­ther­more, this leg­is­la­tion would put our na­tion’s farm­ers first, by pri­or­i­tiz­ing their loan ap­pli­ca­tions for ad­di­tional con­struc­tion.”

In ad­di­tion to this mea­sure, Ste­fanik and sev­eral other mem­bers of Congress re­cently in­tro­duced the Broadband Con­nec­tions for Ru­ral Op­por­tu­ni­ties Pro­gram Act, also known as BCROP. This mea­sure, if ap­proved, would pro­vide fed­eral funds to ru­ral and tribal ar­eas in great­est need of in­ter­net ser­vice.

It calls for sev­eral spe­cific steps. They are:

• Grants up to 50 per­cent of a project’s cost, and up to 75 per­cent for re­mote, high-need ar­eas, in com­bi­na­tion with cur­rent loan fund­ing avail­able through USDA’s Ru­ral Util­i­ties Ser­vice.

• Giv­ing high­est pri­or­ity to projects in ar­eas that are cur­rently un­served by high-speed broadband.

• Pro­vid­ing re­sources to pri­vate-sec­tor providers to ex­pand broadband to un­served ru­ral ar­eas.

• Pri­or­i­tiz­ing part­ner­ship projects, in­clud­ing ini­tia­tives that lever­age match­ing funds and work with an­chor in­sti­tu­tions such as health cen­ters, li­braries, col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

PAUL POST — PPOST@DIG­I­TAL­FIRST­MEDIA. COM

Wel­come Stock Farm co-owner and Northum­ber­land Su­per­vi­sor Wil­lard Peck said ru­ral parts of Saratoga County are greatly in need of im­proved in­ter­net ser­vice. He sup­ports a bill in­tro­duced by U.S. Rep. Elise Ste­fanik, which calls for up­grad­ing ru­ral broadband.

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