At a recent Assembly Economic Development Committee hearing on providing affordable and high quality cable, broadband and telephone service, I expressed to industry leaders what I think is the frustration of many Columbia County residents: I can't even travel between my Albany and Hudson offices without losing calls multiple times. Everyone in the county is tired of the constant rate at which cell phone calls are dropped and the lack of high speed broadband. These issues are fundamental to living in 2016. Columbia County is already behind the eight ball on these issues; and the longer we go without, the slower we will see real economic growth. Without 21st century telecommunications throughout the county we simply won't attract new businesses, entrepreneurs or young families to put down roots here.
There are currently over 3,000 unserved homes in Columbia County and another 10,000 plus are underserved. These statistics demonstrate what we already know, the county is in desperate need of service. The good news is that the state has allocated $500 million for broadband expansion to incentivize building out in underserved communities. While the state has stepped up with this half a billion dollar carrot, it is now up to Columbia County to grab it. My office has been an advocate in this fight since I was first elected and we will continue to do so working with any and all stakeholders. But the county must spearhead this effort. Columbia County should establish a broadband champion whose sole responsibility is to reach out to the providers, urge them to build here and ensure that Columbia County avails itself of the state money set aside for just this purpose.
For the county to grow smartly, attract young people and vibrant businesses and develop a true 21st century economy, access to fast and reliable Internet and cell phone service is essential. We are already lagging behind the rest of the state and cannot afford to fall further into the technology gap.