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Jamestown could become the first New York city to build a municipal broadband network

The $25 million project would bring high speed internet to over 12,000 Jamestown households, if they chose to use it.

JAMESTOWN, N.Y. — Municipal broadband networks aren't common in New York State. In fact, Jamestown is on a path to becoming the first city in the state to build one. 

That's mainly due to the Cuomo administration. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo's broadband policies regularly clashed with those advocating for municipalities to build their own broadband networks. 

Cuomo vetoed several bills that would have allowed municipalities to explore broadband networks, or even implement them. 

Additionally, several former staff members and Public Service Commissioners who served under Cuomo now work for large internet providers that influence state policy. 

The new state budget proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, however, leaps New York towards the top of the list for municipal broadband-friendly states. 

Between policies laid out in the budget, and a huge influx of federal money being dedicated to broadband projects, Jamestown is taking advantage of all of it. 

"We realized that the one thing that we didn't really have is internet and whether the internet should be a utility," Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist said. 

Jamestown is unique from other municipalities, as they operate its own utility company. This would allow Jamestown to build a broadband network for its resident more affordably because they own the infrastructure required for hanging fiber-optic lines. 

Sundquist has been pushing for a municipal broadband network since taking office. 

"Almost 40% of our population lives at the poverty line., and to be able to access the internet really should be a right to have," Mayor Sundquist said. "It's something that we campaigned on and something we're looking into and more importantly, showed how much it is necessary and needed with COVID coming into the community."

The project is expected to cost at least $25 million and provide 1-gigabit internet service for as little as $30 per month. Due to the economic makeup of Jamestown, however, for many residents, the service could ultimately be free. 

"The Federal Government currently has subsidies," Sundquist said. "So right now, I want to consider and let the public know that we could have almost 40% of our population in the city of Jamestown receiving free internet service, which is a game-changer."

Sundquist is referring to the Affordable Connectivity Program offered by the FCC. The program allows low-income households a $30 benefit towards their internet bill. 

This program isn't permanent, however, and it's unclear if Congress would keep funding it, as it was a measure to help people lower their costs during the pandemic. 

Since May 2021, only 190 households in Jamestown have applied for that benefit. 

Even though this has been a project near and dear to Mayor Sundquist, there are multiple providers in Jamestown, more than Buffalo, in fact. 

Spectrum (Charter), and Windstream currently provide internet service to the Pearl City.

"When we conducted a survey through our study, that an average person pays for 100 megabits of service, about $75 per month," Sundquist said.

Sundquist said that the city has been open and honest with providers about their intentions for a municipal broadband network. 

"I've had many vice presidents and things like that at different providers sit in my conference room," Sundquist said. "Because this is a public-private partnership, we would welcome them to join our platform."

You can read the full Jamestown Broadband Master Plan below: