Better access to broadband Internet eyed
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.
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...