ALBANY — A troubling percentage of households in upstate regions have no broadband service in part because of a lack of affordable options and gaps in coverage, a new report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli shows.
Statewide, according to DiNapoli's investigation, the share of households without broadband access was as high as 19.3% in the North Country as of 2019.
Long Island had the lowest percentage of households without connectivity, at 9.2%.
The Mohawk Valley, which includes Otsego and Schoharie counties, had the second highest level of households without broadband access, with 18.2%.
In the Southern Tier, which includes Delaware and Chenango counties, and Western New York, which includes Niagara County, the share of households without access stood at 16.6% and 16.3%, respectively.
The report also found significant disparity in broadband access based on income levels, with one in three of the poorest households not subscribed to the service.
"There still is a digital divide, particularly in rural parts of the state," DiNapoli said during a stop in Columbia County.
His office found more than 1 million households statewide have no access to broadband.
But the report also said the state has "done well" in making broadband available in some areas that previously were not covered by providers.
"The state’s deployment of broadband infrastructure has reduced the number of New Yorkers without broadband available from a reported 518,000 to 253,000 people between 2013 and 2019," the report noted.
The document also stressed the difference between access (households that are subscribed) and availability (households that are capable of being connected).
Joining DiNapoli in Hudson, Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, who called the manner in which federal regulators determine access to broadband service "outdated."
"We know the service maps compiled by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) paint an inaccurate picture of actual broadband access because they rely on a flawed methodology — census block mapping, where if one house is covered in a block it is presumed that all other houses are covered," Delgado said.
The Hochul administration, through spokeswoman Kristin Devoe, reacted by stating the report "reinforces what we have been saying all along: the state's broadband program has been successful in extending broadband to New Yorkers."
But Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-Dutchess/Columbia, said state officials are "misleading" the public when they contend broadband is available in 98% of New York.
She called such talk "fuzzy language," emphasizing: "Availability is not the same as access."
"Lack of access most often has to do with affordability," Barrett said. "The internet provider has not brought that wiring into the house or the building because they deem the price is prohibitive, and that last mile is not something they are willing to invest in."
When contacted by CNHI, Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, called on the state to be more vigorous in getting broadband service to upstate New York residents.
"If you're saying a census block is covered because one house has service but the others don't, what good is it?" he said of the data often cited by the state broadband program. "It's become a bureaucratic mess."
Jones said he is also looking forward to a coming state audit that will examine how New York's broadband program was spent.
DiNapoli called for stronger efforts to make broadband more affordable for low-income households, noting competition among providers is often lacking in rural areas.
"We will continue to work with our state and federal partners to bring low cost, reliable broadband service to all New Yorkers as quickly as possible," Devoe said.
Some 326,000 New York households now benefit from a $50-a-month federal broadband subscription subsidy. State leaders, DiNapoli said, should encourage the federal government to extend that program.
Delgado said Congress should pass an infrastructure passage that includes support for ending gaps in broadband access.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org