By BRIAN MOLONGOSKI
U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., wants to stop the Federal Communications Commission from downgrading its broadband standards for rural areas.
Earlier this year, FCC said it is considering a downgrade of its current minimum home high-speed broadband standard of 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed. That standard was set in 2015, but now FCC wants to allow internet service providers to promote slower internet speeds to customers by setting the new high-speed standard at 10 mbps download speeds with only 1 mbps upload speeds.
This comes at a time when FCC is taking a closer look at whether mobile technology is enough to suit broadband needs in an average household.
However, Sen. Schumer argued that this would be a disservice to rural businesses and communities in upstate New York, who need high-speed connectivity to be profitable and contribute to the economy. Even mobile internet speeds, which can be spotty in more remote areas of the state, would not be enough to make up for lower broadband standards, he added.
“Too many rural areas in upstate New York do not have reliable access to high-speed broadband,” the Senate minority leader said during a conference call Wednesday. “It’s a real, real detriment to upstate New York.”
Sen. Schumer sent a letter to FCC commissioners Wednesday urging them to reverse their decision. He also noted that this could affect federal efforts to get every household in the country connected to high-speed broadband. Of the federal government’s $1 trillion infrastructure funding package, $20 billion would be dedicated to this goal.
“The payback would be enormous because we would have so much productivity,” Sen. Schumer said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo launched a similar program for New York state a few years ago. The $500 million program, split into three phases, awards grant funding to internet infrastructure projects across the state. The third and final round of funding is slated to be announced later this year. Earlier this year, Sen. Schumer joined other lawmakers from New York state in successfully persuading FCC to allocate rural broadband grants to local internet providers, such as Westelcom. After the U.S. Census Bureau designated Watertown and Fort Drum as an “urbanized area” a few years ago, FCC said it could no longer provide the area with the funding it provides to providers in rural areas.
Westelcom is one of the north country’s largest internet providers through fiber-based broadband, and its services are used particularly for healthcare facilities and telemedicine networks. Without the rural designation, Westelcom would have lost nearly 96 percent of its anticipated revenue.