Editorial — Reducing Barriers: State Legislature Vetoes Fiber Optic Fee to Internet Companies | Opinion

When it comes to high-speed Internet in the GLOW region, supply is struggling to meet demand.

Internet providers have tried to expand broadband technology throughout the region. But they have encountered some obstacles that have prevented them from achieving their goals.

One problem was a fee that the state charged these companies. Companies had to pay a tax on every foot of fiber-optic cable they built along state-controlled highways. Oddly enough, this fee was not assessed for phone, sewer, or water lines.

Lawmakers included this in the 2019-2020 state budget; met with serious opposition. On this page, we repeatedly argued that the tax interfered with the state’s plan to expand high-speed Internet and should be repealed immediately.

In her budget proposal this year, Governor Kathleen C. Hochul requested a fee waiver for state-funded work. While this approach would help to some extent, it was still not enough. The tax had to be eliminated entirely.

Fortunately, Albany legislators finally saw the light. As part of the 2022-2023 state budget, they repealed the tax entirely. This will help the effort to ensure that all areas of the state have access to broadband Internet.

“We appreciate the efforts of state legislators working with the New York State Association of Counties staff to advocate on behalf of counties for the repeal of these unnecessary fees and costs on broadband projects,” said County Administrator Livingston County, Ian Coyle.

Livingston County is working with Empire Access on a USDA ReConnect grant that will expand broadband infrastructure to more than 1,000 underserved and underserved addresses in the county.

“Removing this onerous tax,” Coyle said, “will save county taxpayers approximately $50,000 per year.”

The state Department of Transportation began charging fees to fiber optic linemen who build lines in a state-controlled highway right-of-way after the 2019-20 state budget included language that enacted a tax of right of way or a fee for use and occupancy. The DOT had required installers to enter annual fee permits to charge corporations per foot, per cable, for the fiber optic lines they own.

The North Country Development Authority, for example, must pay about $2,000 per mile of fiber it has installed. The fee totals $1.6 million for the 830 miles of fiber DANC owns along DOT’s state routes. This represents a quarter of the DANC fiber network’s projected annual revenue, according to an Oct. 14, 2021, article in the Watertown Daily Times.

DANC officials said the fees are essentially a tax on state grant money, as the DANC network has been built largely on state grant money.”

Now that the fee has been repealed, Internet providers must improve measures to expand high-speed Internet.

The state laid out an ambitious plan to see more people, particularly those in rural areas, get broadband internet. Businesses are mandated to continue this work, and now they no longer need to worry about the excessive costs imposed on them by this tax. The state has also instituted new grant programs that require a total investment for broadband initiatives of $1.445 billion, including $1.145 billion in federal funds.

The novel coronavirus pandemic that began two years ago resulted in even greater reliance on the Internet. The need to observe security protocols led to increased use of these services. People bought groceries online; their children received instructions in the classroom via the Internet; and people made use of telehealth services.

We applaud everyone who worked to get this tax repealed. It shows that grassroots activism is alive and well, a fact that offers us all a much brighter future.

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