Hillsdale advised to press hard now for broadband

HILLSDALE–The June Hillsdale Town Board meeting started with a short presentation from Columbia Connect Chair Howard Lieberman, a physicist and electrical engineer who has served as a consultant to the Obama Administration, NASA and other government entities. The purpose of Mr. Lieberman’s presentation was to inform and encourage town officials and residents that now is the time to exert pressure on Charter Communications to provide full broadband service in the area.

Currently available internet service is slow compared to the broadband service in many other parts of the state and the nation. Slow speeds for sending and receiving, which result from outdated infrastructure, limit the ability of consumers, businesses and local government to use online digital services of all types.

Mr. Lieberman noted a recent federal court ruling that the internet is a basic utility, not a luxury. Also, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and state regulators put requirements for upgraded service on Charter prior to approving the company’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable, another large provider of internet service.

Hillsdale Supervisor Peter Cipkowski told the meeting that in terms of access to broadband internet service, Columbia and Greene are the “two least served counties in the Northeast” due to geography, population and, perhaps, politics.

Mr. Lieberman advised that there are “piles of money” available to implement full broadband service and that the effort will require a public-private partnership. He added that municipalities will have to be especially vigilant because Charter will not want to invest here “because it does not fit their business model.” And he added that various state agencies involved in overseeing expansion and regulation of internet access do not possess the knowledge or skills to ensure full compliance by Charter and don’t necessarily think that broadband connectivity is essential to economic development.

Libraries, schools and vital municipal services like police and fire departments are supposed to have broadband now, according to Mr. Lieberman, who said it is possible “to piggyback on existing infrastructure” to implement the service.

Turning to another hot technological topic the board faced the question of the future of commercial solar farming in Hillsdale.

Right now, the town does not have an ordinance governing commercial solar farming, but Supervisor Cipkowski said that the town has been approached by companies with proposals to build large solar arrays and he said he knew of landowners who were also being approached.

The supervisor noted that Ancram has banned commercial solar farming and that Copake has approved a moratorium on the practice.

Some general considerations offered by members of the audience and board members included what tax bracket would land with commercial solar farm operations fall under and what becomes of the panels once they are decommissioned approximately thirty years after being installed.

In other business:

•The town’s phone system has been upgraded but in the process wifi service has been disrupted temporarily. Fairpoint is expected to fix the situation within three weeks

•The most recent round of the KISS program, a document shredding service for seniors, has proven to be successful, according to Town Clerk Kathi Doolan and she recommends that it be renewed. The program ends Friday

•The Hillsdale Volunteer Fire Department has been issued a dozen high band radios. Each truck, chief and line officer will have a radio. It has taken two years to switch from low to high band service. Also it is time to replace truck tires, which occurs every six years. The tires cost $700/each and each truck requires six tires. The department, also, has added 10 new members, doubling its staff from two years ago.

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