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New York wrangling over federal broadband funds

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(The Center Square) — New York officials are wrangling over hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to expand broadband internet service to the state’s far-flung rural citizenry.

The state is slated to get nearly $665 million from the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to close the digital divide in the state as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to give every American household access to high-speed internet in the next seven years.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has called the windfall of funding a “game changer” and directed the state’s ConnectAll office, which will oversee the expansion plans, to prioritize broadband expansion for affordable housing units and allow municipalities to apply for funds to build their broadband system.

But Republican lawmakers are raising concerns that some areas of the sprawling Empire State could be left out of the process as the state begins to dole out the federal broadband funding.

In a letter to Hochul, Republican Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-NY and other GOP legislative leaders called on her administration to prioritize rural communities as they hammer out plans to distribute the “historic” level of federal funding.

“Despite our efforts there are still far too many residents, especially in the rural parts of the state, who do not have access, or very limited access, to high-speed internet,” the GOP lawmakers wrote. “The communities that do not have any access are completely unserved due to a lack of investment, their relative remoteness. and challenges related to the costs and complexity of putting in place the necessary infrastructure.”

The lawmakers said an estimated 130,000 New Yorkers live in areas of the state without high-speed internet service, wired or wireless, which has essentially cut them off from the world. They noted that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted those gaps, with some communities unable to provide services for families and school-age children learning from home.

“These individuals and the communities they live in face challenges with the delivery of services and access to critical information and should be prioritized when funds are distributed,” they wrote.

“Many parts of the state still lack the infrastructure to support high-speed broadband and this new federal funding will help remove that barrier,” he said in a statement. “How New York utilizes this federal funding will set a critical path for our state’s digital future.”

The funding is part of President Joe Biden’s ambitious pledge that every U.S. household will have access to high-speed internet service by 2030, an initiative his administration has compared to the late-President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to bring electricity to rural America in the 1930s.

Each state will receive at least $107 million, with 19 states getting over $1 billion, according to the White House. Texas will receive more than $3.3 billion under the program.

“These investments will help all Americans,” Biden said in recent remarks on the broadband initiative. “We’re not going to leave anyone behind.”

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