Local officials seeking to study access to reliable internet in Cortland County are encouraging residents to fill out the Central New York Planning and Development Board internet survey.
The regional Planning and Development Board (PDB) — serving the counties of Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego — partnered with Rochester-based telecommunications firm Educational Community and Corporate (ECC) Technologies for the CNY Broadband Internet survey, which compiles resident data for people regarding the cost of internet plans, and accessibility to different services and speeds. ECC was also contracted to take inventory of the current internet infrastructure in the region, according to a press release issued by the PDB.
PDB officials highlighted the importance of reliable service connecting the region, underscoring how a broadband connection can link residents to better access to education, telemedicine and online commerce. Federal guidelines classify broadband internet as a connection that allows for speeds of 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload.
“What we discovered (over the past year) is that broadband access really became just a part of everyday life for people in very different ways,” said PDB Transportation Planner Thomas Bardenett. “The fact that there are people who still struggle to have access, and there’s a large number of people who have struggled to get access, is preventing them from really being able to partake in the 21st century economy.”
According to Broadband Now N.Y., an advocacy group that compiles telecommunications consumer data in New York to determine broadband coverage across the state, 89 percent of Cortland County has access to broadband internet services. Among the counties in the region, Cortland ranks second to last, right above Cayuga County, in access to internet download speeds above 25 mbps.
Cortland County Legislative Chair Paul Heider, R- Cuyler, Solon, Truxton, marked the survey, which residents can take until July 31, as an important part of the county’s immediate future during his state of the county address at Thursday’s legislative meeting.
“It’s very important,” Heider told The Cortland Voice regarding the survey. “It’s mainly in the rural communities where we have some concerns that they’re underserved or there’s not a broadband (service) that is acceptable or even viable for them.”
Affordability, Heider said, is one of the areas where he hopes the county gains insight once the survey is completed.
“(Residents in rural areas might have a choice between services, but it may not be an affordable one,” he said.
In the city of Cortland, residents have access to 11 different plans across eight service providers, with the average plan costing approximately $71 a month, per Broadband Now data. Further, the data says Spectrum is available for 92 percent of residents in the city, making it the broadband service most available to city residents with nine different plans to choose from. The second most accessible service in the city is Verizon High Speed internet (92 percent availability), although the download speed of 15 mbps doesn’t qualify as broadband, per federal guidelines.
Broadband Now data reports also note speeds in the city of Cortland are 71 percent below the state’s average. The current average download speed in the city is 53.51 mbps download, which also places Cortland 75 percent below the national average.
After compiling data in central New York, Bardenett said the PDB will produce a report and partner up with localities to come up with strategies to improve broadband access for all.
“Some of (our plans and partnerships) might be just working directly with certain companies that want to partner with municipalities to expand service,” Bardenett said. “If there is one company that is prominent in the area, and we’re noticing some gaps, we want to work with them to figure out what we can do to help them fill those gaps.”
Heider urged residents to take the survey, noting the COVID-19 pandemic exposed a lot of gaps in human life where better access to the internet could have been helpful.
“I think we all learned a lesson that the past year when a lot of folks were telecommuting,” he said. “Folks needed to get information about COVID and they did not have internet(access), which was the only means of getting information. Also, when children were learning from home and they did not have broadband it was an unacceptable means of communicating and getting their lessons and learning.”