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Buffalo, NY | Local News, Weather, Traffic, Sports | WGRZ.com

New York State Broadband Office will not answer WGRZ questions

The Empire State Development run program won't answer questions dating back to June.
Credit: WGRZ

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Officials at the New York State Broadband Office, operated under the umbrella of Empire State Development, are no longer answering questions from WGRZ regarding the state broadband initiative. 

For the duration of the summer, 2 On Your Side has been working to get clarification regarding a statement made by Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul as it pertains to the number of New York residents that actually have a broadband connection. 

Every time WGRZ asks a state official about the percentage of New Yorkers without broadband access they continuously tell us that 98% have access. In fact, Empire State Development and the Lt. Governor's office gave us the exact same response, regardless of the question, when they were answering our questions. 

On May 20, Adam Kilduff from the NYS Broadband office sent us this statement when we asked why several state projects remain unfinished: 

Currently, more than 98% of New York’s residences and businesses have access to one or more high-speed wired and/or wireless broadband services. This represents a significant increase in access to high-speed broadband for many New York State residents and businesses from just a few years ago. After full implementation of all commitments announced in connection with the New NY Broadband Program, approximately 99.9% of New York households will have access to high-speed broadband – with 99% at download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and the remainder at speeds of 25 Mbps.

On June 28th, Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul’s office sent us the exact same statement after WGRZ asked about a document we were seeking in connection to the program:

Currently, more than 98% of New York’s residences and businesses have access to one or more high-speed wired and/or wireless broadband services. This represents a significant increase in access to high-speed broadband for many New York State residents and businesses from just a few years ago. After full implementation of all commitments announced in connection with the New NY Broadband Program, approximately 99.9% of New York households will have access to high-speed broadband – with 99% at download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and the remainder at speeds of 25 Mbps. 

In response to that, we asked the NYS Broadband Office the following questions on June 30 in an email:

  • If not mistaken the “total units” figure presented on the state website regarding the number of installs by a company is referring to an individual house or a census block, correct?

  • In total 255,994 units were addressed through all three phases of the program, yet the largest state grant that was awarded, in terms of total units, was to HughesNet – 78,960, and they don’t even deliver broadband level speeds at 25Mbps, let alone 100. The HughesNet grant represents 30% of the total units addressed in the program 

  • How can 99% of the state have 100Mbps access if such a large part of the program went to a service that can’t even deliver baseline broadband speed?

On July 7, the New York State Broadband Office said they would get us an answer to this question 

On July 8, the office said they were “working on it.”

On September 11, the Broadband Office asked when our deadline was and that they would get back to us. 

2 On Your Side told them Monday, September 14.

We did not get a response. 

Credit: FCC
A look at broadband access across Western New York using the FCC mapping data. This map indicates all broadband available in Western New York meeting the >25Mbps standard. Satellite internet data is not included in this map due to WGRZ's inability to measure speeds that meet FCC standards.
Credit: Nate Benson, WGRZ

While the New York State Broadband Office continues to look for an answer, students across the state struggle with access to broadband. As we reported, 30% of the students in the Pine Valley School District lack broadband at home. The projects that were awarded state broadband funds remain incomplete in that area. 

The Buffalo Bill Foundation is partnering with Buffalo Public Schools to distribute broadband to 4,500 students. 

An estimated 20-30% of Buffalo residents don’t have access. 

Microsoft and RTO Wireless setup free Wi-Fi hot spots in Niagara and Orleans counties to help with the demand for adequate broadband. 

Nearly half of residents in Niagara County and Orleans County aren’t using the internet at broadband defined speeds, making remote learning and work from home nearly impossible. 

Residents in Ellicottville, Franklinville, and numerous Southern Tier communities have to travel upwards to a half hour to get a public signal to send an email. 

Numerous superintendents in the Southern Tier have told 2 On Your Side that it doesn’t matter if they hand out laptops to students because they lack adequate access to broadband at home.

One of the things that we pride ourselves in at WGRZ is being the voice of the voiceless, and when government officials won’t answer questions about the problems facing Western New Yorkers it’s our duty to report that. 

Based on the lack of responses from Empire State Development and the New York State Broadband Office, it’s clear that they don’t want 2 On Your Side to continuously point out the fact that their claims about broadband access are incorrect. 

 2 On Your Side has asked the NYS Broadband Office repeatedly to point us to the specific data that supports their claim, and they have yet to do so. 

While we wait for answers, we will continue to ask questions, and anytime Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul or Gov. Andrew Cuomo are in Buffalo, we will ask them about this issue. 

If you have story ideas as it relates to broadband and the digital gap in Western New York you can email: broadband@wgrz.com