Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to devote $25 million of a job creation fund to expand broadband Internet access to rural upstate and underserved urban areas of New York that could create jobs and potentially provide far more cellular telephone coverage to the Adirondacks.
Cuomo is working with legislators to devote $25 million from the $75 million New York Works Economic Development Fund in his proposed budget.
The legislature would have to approve that use of the job-creating fund, as well as a law that would allow partnerships with private companies to implement high-speed broadband coverage.
Some areas of New York, including in the Adirondacks, don't even have cell phone coverage, said Anthony Collins, president of Clarkson University in northern New York. The effects of expanding broadband access would be "enormous," he said.
Broadband coverage is a key for start-up companies and established small businesses that need the fast service that can carry more data to compete, Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto told The Associated Press.
In his 2010 Democratic campaign, Cuomo said high-speed Internet service must be expanded to allow farms and other rural enterprises, as well as businesses in lower-income, urban neighborhoods, to tap markets they couldn't otherwise. Statewide, the service will help students, he said.
"We are just missing opportunities in the Adirondack Park," said Sen. Elizabeth O'C. Little, a Republican representing much of northeastern New York. "We're not able to attract young people to come here and stay.
"We need broadband, so some of our second-home owners can stay longer, work here longer, and all that creates business activity," Little said.
She also notes that high-speed broadband Internet would bring more cell phone coverage to the wilderness areas, where skiers and hikers have been saved when rescuers tracked their location.
"At first glance, I thought it was a great idea," said Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Brooklyn Democrat. "It could help close the digital divide for commerce, for consumers and for job creation."
The project will involve regulation of the telecommunications industry, which could complicate its passage. Camara said that's an area he will pursue and that meetings with unions and federal regulators will be held quickly so that the proposal can be part of the budget the legislature plans to pass this month.
The state effort would mesh with a national drive.
Bolstered by billions in federal stimulus money, an effort to expand broadband Internet access to rural areas is underway. Supporters liken its potential to the New Deal's electrification of the nation's hinterlands in the 1930s and 1940s.
The stimulus act set aside $7.2 billion for expansion of broadband access, believing it will spur economic growth, boost educational opportunities and create jobs. A U.S. Commerce Department report in 2010 showed that 65.9 percent of urban households subscribed to broadband in 2009, compared with 51 percent of rural households. There are several reasons for the rural shortfall, but lack of availability is the most often cited.
"For small businesses, if you are not connected, you're not in the game," Collins said. "China and India are ahead of us on this, and that makes no sense."
Cuomo's proposal already has the support of the New York Farm Bureau, unions whose workers could do the construction and technical work, and business groups and chambers of commerce from the Bronx and Long Island to Niagara County.