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Lawmakers promote broadband funding in federal infrastructure package

Infrastructure Path Ahead WEB

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — Funding from the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package signed into law last week, will soon start making its way down to local projects, including broadband internet access. 

On a Zoom call with reporters this week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said $100 million from the package is dedicated to grants to help broadband developers and municipalities expand their infrastructure for internet access.

"The grant funding is available to both providers and to localities to apply for,” Gillibrand said. “Whoever is going to be the one who ensures the access."

Assessments by New York state show that counties in the Southern Tier and Catskills region have some of the spottiest broadband coverage in the state, and existing providers often only offer services at relatively low speeds.

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) said that the grant funding also ensures broadband will be run off of main roads and into less populated rural areas, often referred to as the “last mile.” Reed said he worked with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to include that provision.

"West Virginia is very similar to the Southern Tier and they face similar issues of getting that last mile of broadband put in the ground and distributed out there for access to people and rural communities in particular,” Reed said.

Reed was one of only 13 Republicans in the House to vote for the infrastructure package.

Specifics about how that funding will flow down to the local level are still in the works. Reed said he expects it will work similarly to how existing federal infrastructure funding is distributed.

"The money will generally flow through our state transportation coffers and also existing federal programs that exist in order to distribute infrastructure money. And so, we did not want to, when we negotiated this bill, we did not want to create new bureaucracy,” Reed told WSKG. “We wanted to use the existing, no pun intended, infrastructure of the distribution of money that's out there."

He said municipal officials and other local leaders should keep in touch with federal lawmakers as well as industry associations for guidance on how to apply for funds.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.