Walczyk, Ritchie Lead Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers, Pushing Governor to Reconsider Restrictive Fee for Broadband Expansion Projects

State Assemblyman Mark Walczyk and State Senator Patty Ritchie are leading a bipartisan coalition of upstate lawmakers, calling on the Governor to roll back a fee that is handcuffing the expansion of broadband to underserved parts of upstate New York.

The 2019-2020 State Budget contained language that enacted a right-of-way tax, or a “use and occupancy fee." This tax is applied when fiberoptic lines, being run by telecom companies, are building out projects along a state-owned roadway. As a result, portions of the North County, including the Town of Louisville, are unable to complete a broadband expansion project. The Town received grant funds to help offset the costs associated with running two miles of fiberoptic along State Route 37, providing broadband to those who cannot access it, while creating a climate for future expansion. As a result of this tax, the Town, and most importantly the residents this project would have served, are left in the lurch, due to another fee from Albany.

“Today, broadband access is nearly as essential as electricity and for Albany to sneak this extra fee into a state budget is shameful. Rural New Yorkers that don’t have access to broadband are the ones paying the price for this insider deal,” said Assemblyman Mark Walczyk. “This fee is a direct conflict with the Governor’s ‘Broadband for All Program.' I want to thank Senator Ritchie and my colleagues in the Assembly and Senate for pushing the Governor to remove this anti-expansion fee and get out of the way so broadband can get to those who need it.”

“High-speed internet is essential to commerce, learning and to staying connected with friends and family,” said Senator Patty Ritchie. “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that now, more than ever, this service is critical to the daily lives of all New Yorkers and especially those in our rural communities. I am hopeful the Governor will reconsider this unnecessary fee."

“Access to broadband is something that the we were thrilled to address with the funding we received to run fiberoptic along State Route 37, but needless to say, our hands are now tied due to this senseless fee,” said Larry Legault, Town of Louisville Supervisor. “I’d like to personally thank Assemblyman Walczyk, Senator Ritchie and the other upstate lawmakers urging the Governor to waive this tax and let broadband expansion projects continue.”

The Town of Louisville isn't the only community across Northern New York that is facing this dilemma. Numerous municipalities have encountered this tax, effectively halting the expansion of broadband. Additionally, this fee also taxes the existing broadband network overseen by the Development Authority of the North Country (DANC), to the tune of $1.6 million, a quarter of the revenue generated by said network. DANC runs a substantial fiberoptic network across the North Country serving numerous individuals.

“The Development Authority of the North Country owns and operates an extensive fiber optic network, delivering broadband connectivity to countless schools, hospitals and businesses in northern New York. This fee on preexisting fiber lines will limit the ability of the Authority to implement future projects expanding broadband telecommunications to rural areas,” said Carl Farone, Interim Director of the Development Authority. “My sincere thanks to Assemblyman Walczyk, Senator Ritchie and their colleagues for bringing attention to this issue and asking the Governor to waive this restrictive fee that will significantly limit future rural broadband expansion.”

“It’s frustrating, and frankly heartbreaking, to see a community struggle for years to get access to broadband, finally rally resources to make it a reality, and then have it dashed by incoherent, unsustainable, and discriminatory policies that are in stark opposition to the stated broadband goals of New York. This regressive and unnecessary fee is just another example of a fundamental disregard for the issues facing rural New Yorkers,” said Kevin Lynch, COO of Slic Network Solutions. “Assemblyman Walczyk, Senator Ritchie and their colleagues in the Legislature should be applauded for taking this seriously and asking Albany to use some common sense and get rid of this restrictive fee."

During the COVID-19 crisis, many families were forced to adapt and work and learn from home. While accessing broadband is simple for some, many in underserved areas were left trying to figure out how to access this critical service to work and for students to keep up with their classmates. This puts a severe disadvantage to those who can’t easily access wireless internet.

A copy of the letter is attached.