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NYS Senate passes bill designed to remove barriers for rural broadband deployment

Providers say those fees absolutely impacted rural deployment.

ALBANY, N.Y. — The New York State Senate has passed a bill that will remove another barrier that internet service providers say is hindering rural broadband deployment.

"What this bill does is it removes the requirement for a re-survey of existing utility poles, which can range anywhere from $5,000-$15,000 per month," said Senator George Borrello (R). 

Borrello represents the 57th Senate district, which encompasses large portions of the southern tier in Western New York. 

His constituents have struggled to get connected to high-speed internet, especially fiber-to-the-home, despite promises by the state for nearly a decade. 

"It's something I've been pushing for two years," Borrello said. "This is a big victory, along with the removal of the unnecessary fee on fiber optic cable.

That fee, implemented by the legislature in 2019, allows the New York State Department of Transportation to charge broadband providers for access to state-owned right-of-ways, as well as the survey fee that senate bill S8472B is eliminating. 

In 2021, 2 On Your Side sent a freedom of information request to the DOT requesting all the applications submitted to the department for fiber optic access to state-owned right-of-way. 

WGRZ received over 1,000 pages of documents and concluded from that information that 14 different companies paid the NYSDOT $1,213,861 for 126 miles of access to the right-of-way in the 8 counties of WNY. 

On average, those companies paid over $10,800 per mile for access. 

The Department of Transportation would not respond to our multiple requests for information about this story. 

Governor Hochul pledged to end the Perm 75 fees as part of her ConnectAll initiative announced earlier this year. It's unclear, however, if the fees ended for only ConnectAll-approved projects, or any company looking to expand coverage. 

Regardless, the survey fees still lingered, and providers say those fees absolutely impacted rural deployment. 

"It's a huge, huge expense," said Todd Warmingham, chief construction officer for FirstLight. Firstlight operates over 25,000 miles of middle-mile fiber optic cable in New York and New England. 

"We're a privately funded company, but we expanded where we need to expand for our customer base," Warmingham said. "The best service we could do with taking on all these fees, which was a huge financial burden for our company."

Maura Mahoney, the chief marketing officer for Firstlight, said the fees would have been easier to make sense of if they had been applied to every provider. 

"The challenge with it is that particular fee was unequally applied, and that was unfair," Mahoney said. "I think that the great example of the industry mobilizing to have that tax repealed."

2 On Your Side checked with the NYS Comptroller's office to see if they had data on how much money the NYSDOT brought in from these surveying fees, but they did not have that information and deferred WGRZ to the DOT. 

The assembly is expected to take up the bill before they close out the session, which was extended into Friday and possibly the weekend. 

"It's critical, absolutely critical that we remove as many of these barriers to the expansion as possible," Borrello said. "We're not there 100% but we made significant strides this session alone."

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