By TED WADDELL
CALLICOON CENTER, NY — On Sunday afternoon, October 25, Sen. Jen Metzger informally met with several residents of Bethlehem Road to help them celebrate finally …
CALLICOON CENTER, NY — On Sunday afternoon, October 25, Sen. Jen Metzger informally met with several residents of Bethlehem Road to help them celebrate finally getting wired with high-speed broadband service.
For years, folks living along the rural road—including an international trader, a musician, a couple of nurses, a teacher, a physician, a high school principal and a school counselor—have been struggling to connect with the outside world of commerce, education and medicine using modems, snail-slow internet service and iffy satellite links.
Think of being a first responder, as several of these residents are, and trying to communicate using a system that’s as slow as molasses on a cold winter’s morning, and you get the idea of their level of frustration.
The gathering was held at the home of Thierry Noyelle, who works in international trade with contacts across the globe including Asia and Africa, and his wife, Sonya, a singer/songwriter of note.
About five years ago, Noyelle started looking into getting high-speed internet in the area but ran into roadblocks; one company was sold to another provider and the project slowed to the speed of dial-up with projected costs over the moon.
A couple of years later, Derick Melander, a fellow homeowner along the road, was joined by other broadband activists to take up the torch in search for high-speed internet service. Eventually, in the wake of constant frustrations, the group reached out to Metzger’s office, which spearheaded the solution.
According to Melander, the group tried just about everything including meetings with government officials, letters to local newspapers and contacting the Public Service Commission (PSC) for help in getting broadband access at a price less than what Spectrum had reportedly quoted would cost each resident $30,000 to $35,000.
Melander noted that, according to the Sullivan County Economic Development Corporation, an estimated 50 percent of homes in the county are second homes, but by most accounts, this number has increased as people are fleeing the metro area due to the pandemic and working remotely from home.
“Most of us had been patching our connectivity together with satellite dishes, hot spots and cell-signal repeaters with minimal success. We were all in a bind, trying to keep our jobs and stay in the area... Some of us are on the front lines,” said Melander. “Jen stuck with us, and it was a ton of work. Her office made calls and connected the dots for us week after week for at least six months.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Bethlehem Road resident Patti Eggers, an educator now forced by COVID-19 to work remotely from home with her school in the city, said, “I hope every road in Sullivan County speaks up for the educational right of our children, whether they are two or 22, they need the support of our infrastructure.”
”Residents on this road have been trying to get broadband services for five years without success, and were in desperate straits when the pandemic hit,” said Metzger. “These are teachers, health care practitioners and families with kids who were now learning remotely, all in need of a service they did not have.”
According to Metzger, the group contacted her office in April and, “after much back-and-forth with Spectrum, the company agreed to wire this road with 23 homes for broadband,” adding Bethlehem Road to an existing buildout plan at no additional cost to the residents.
Earlier this year, Metzger’s bill (S8805) that addressed deficiencies in rural broadband service across the state passed the state legislature almost unanimously (59-1 in the Senate and 141-0 in the Assembly).
As outlined in the bill, the PSC is directed to study the availability, affordability and reliability of high-speed internet and broadband access in New York State, and produce a detailed access map on its website that indicates internet service by location.
“We are thrilled about the outcome, but we have many other gaps to close, and I urge the governor to sign my comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act, which passed the state legislature with wide bipartisan support in July,” said Metzger.