By HOWARD BALABAN firstname.lastname@example.org
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — ALBION — Congressman Chris Collins, R-Clarence, led a field hearing in Albion Thursday to gather information about the need for expanded broadband access in rural areas.
As chairman of the Small Business Subcommittee on Health and Technology, Collins noted that it was nice to be a part of a committee without any partisan politics, as bring access to those who need it is an issue everyone can get behind.
Several people testified in the hearing, including representatives from Time Warner Cable, the New York Farm Bureau and Frontier Communications. A representative from the FCC was unable to attend.
Collins noted that while the focus is on bringing broadband technology to small businesses, it is also vital to get the service to families with school aged children.
“We hear a lot about the Common Core and how kids today rely on technology for assignments, and if they don’t have access we’re leaving them behind,” he said. “It’s a national priority to get service to these areas.”
Robert Smith, the general manager for Frontier Communications, said the technology exists “to go the last mile” and provide service where needed. However, he noted that the costs can get expensive and can rise in more sparsely populated areas.
Charles Lind, who attended the hearing, noted afterward that Smith’s comments were true in his case.
“I was told it would cost $26,500 for the last mile to my house,” Lind explained, adding that he lives close to Medina near Culvert and Portage Roads.
“I don’t think that price is reasonable,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get service for 15 years.”
Lind said having some form of internet access is no longer a luxury in today’s world. “There has to be a way to make it happen,” he said.
In his remarks, Smith said Frontier has invested $2.2 billion in company funds and $133.2 million from FCC funding to bring more broadband access to underserved areas. He also noted how being able to get online is necessary for nearly everyone.
“Broadband technology offers rural America untold economic, educational and social opportunities and we consider it our job to deliver that access,” he said.
Lynne Johnson and Dave Godfrey, legislators in Orleans and Niagara County, respectively, and prominent members of the Niagara Orleans Regional Alliance, said Collins’ visit was a step in the right direction.
“There was a lot of new and valuable information brought out today,” Godfrey said. He pointed specifically to the testimony of Kendra Lamb of the Farm Bureau.
“She explained how 31 percent of farms in New York State don’t have broadband access,” Godfrey said. “That really expands the number of underserved areas … and is totally unacceptable.”
Johnson said bringing “all the right players and vendors in the same room” was advantageous to move things forward.
“The Federal Government heard our need and was able to come and listen to us,” she said. “They heard what’s impeding rural broadband from getting to that last mile.
“They heard our cry, and they came to our turf because we’ve been the loudest on the issue,” Johnson added. “We want to be able to provide last mile coverage, and we want to do it at an affordable rate for everyone.”
Collins said the message was not lost on him, and that the more information available and disseminated about rural broadband access, the better the chances of bringing forth legislation on the issue down the road.