H’dale study faults FCC data on local net service

HILLSDALE–At the Town Board meeting February 14 Tod Wohlfarth, a representative from the town’s Broadband Committee, raised concerns regarding the state’s “Broadband for All” program, which seeks to make high speed internet access available in all parts of the county by the end of 2018. He said that the state could be working with erroneous data and, consequently, Hillsdale will not get adequate coverage from the initiative.

There is a pool of $670 million from state and federal sources available to provide rural areas statewide with high speed access to the internet. Columbia County is at the top of the state’s list of areas requiring service upgrades to this broadband access. The Federal Communications Commission asked internet service providers like Fairpoint, Charter and Spectrum to provide data about their broadband service to communities in the county. Based on that data, the FCC drafted maps identifying three levels of service available in each town: fully served, underserved, and un-served. The state and county will use the FCC map to base awards to broadband providers to upgrade service in three or four phases.

Mr. Wohlfarth informed the Town Board that the Broadband Committee conducted its own survey of Hillsdale, received 110 responses, and drafted its own map based on those responses. The committee’s map draws a different picture from the one provided by the FCC, state and county. He said the provider information given to the FCC can be misleading, because if one building “in a block is receiving adequate broadband service, a provider, like Charter, can claim that the entire block is receiving adequate broadband service” even though that may not be the case for all the buildings on that block.

As an example Mr. Wohlfarth cited the Town Hall building, which falls within a fully served area on the FCC map, yet the broadband speed “barely reaches 25” Mbps (megabits per second). That’s about a quarter of the speed that experts say represents true broadband service.

In Phase 1 of New York’s Broadband for All initiative, the state has awarded $54 million for expanding service in Columbia County. In his presentation to the Town Board, Mr. Wohlfarth said Fairpoint, which did not apply for phase 1 money but has applied for money under Phase 2, has not shared information with the Broadband Committee about either how much it requested or what areas will be targeted. Mr. Wohlfarth added that the public announcement of Phase 2 awards, which had been anticipated at the end of January, has been delayed.

Fairpoint was recently acquired by Consolidated Communications, a company headquartered in Mattoon, Illinois. It is not clear what plans the new owner has for broadband service in Columbia County.

Mr. Wohlfarth said he doesn’t know when Phase 3 applications will be open or if there will be a Phase 4 of applications and awards; but he emphasized that the current maps “need to be fixed” to ensure Hillsdale gets fully wired. A public meeting of the committee to address these issues was scheduled for last weekend.

In other business at the February 14 meeting:

• The Town Board passed a resolution to participate in the state’s Unified Solar Permit program for residences. The vote was unanimous, with board member Jill Elster-Sims absent. With the adoption of the resolution the town will receive an unencumbered grant of $2,500, according to Climate Smart Task Force Chair Tom Carty, and will be eligible to apply for up to $700, 000 in grants

• Town Supervisor Peter Cipkowski plans to draft a resolution for Hillsdale to be a “tobacco free” zone in Columbia County. Mr. Cipkowski said that “90% of county towns” are in the program. All town-owned land would be “tobacco free.” The resolution will be presented at the March meeting

• The supervisor will ask the town attorney to draft a petition for residents on Whippoorwill Road to sign requesting the state DOT modify access to state Route 22. Cars turning from Whippoorwill onto the state highway have their view obstructed by a house at the intersection

• The board is seeking a representative to serve on the county Safety Board, which meets six times a year and focuses on speed limit changes.

The next regular meeting of the Town Board is March 21 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 2609 state Route 23.

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