Red Hook, New York
Local living | Politics/Government | Tech
3 December 2020 11:24PM
Emily Sachar

Charter Communications, the cable provider that operates under the Spectrum brand, has begun a project to add broadband on several Town roads as part of an effort to close the digital divide.

While much of the Town and nearly all of the Village neighborhoods have access to cable and corresponding broadband, there are voids scattered across the more rural parts of the community.

Among roads that need broadband, McKeon and other town leaders said, are portions of:
–Feller Newmark
–East and West Kerley Corners
–Pitcher Lane
–Budds Corners
–Freeborn Lane
–River Road, near Poet’s Walk
–Yantz, behind the Rhinebeck Aerodrome, and
–Hapeman Hill.

As part of contract renewal negotiations with Spectrum, which remits roughly $80,000 in annual fees to the Town in exchange for the license to sell cable service to residents and businesses, Supervisor Robert McKeon has requested that the company try to close all gaps in coverage areas.

“The COVID pandemic has made it even more essential that our residents have access to reliable internet for business and educational purposes,” McKeon said. “We appreciate the willingness of Spectrum to work with us to make sure that no one is left at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing the internet.”

McKeon said his office also is canvassing residents from a number of the roads to see how urgently they want broadband access. He encouraged residents who wish to be connected to reach out to his office, to be placed on a list to be conveyed to the cable company.

“Because not everyone who is without cable wants it, we’re trying to gather that information to be as efficient as we can in our advocacy,” McKeon said. “We think it’s also to the benefit of Spectrum to provide their services to new residents accustomed to broadband in the communities from which they are coming.”

The latest projects, on Crestwood and Feller Newmark roads, are due to be complete by the end of December, according to Lara Pritchard, Senior Director of Communications for the Northeast Region of Charter Communications, one of the companies under the Spectrum brand.

Pritchard said that other rural roads without service are not yet on the drawing board for broadband additions.

The impact of having no access to broadband has been made painfully obvious during the Covid pandemic, as students and adults alike are often required to study, learn, and work from home. Shortages of hardware, like computers, and a lack of technical and software knowledge also have surfaced.

The Red Hook Public Library has rolled out a panoply of successful and highly popular initiatives, from computer and wi-fi hotspot loaner programs to software training classes, to address these issues.

“Now more than ever, reliable access to the internet is critical for our community to thrive,” McKeon said. “Spectrum is stepping up and beginning to close any gaps in coverage. This has been a priority of my office and we’re going to make sure that our residents get what they need in terms of the 21st-century economy.”

Amy K. Smith, head of programs and youth services at the library, concurred. “The proposed expansion of Spectrum’s digital infrastructure in Red Hook is crucial to addressing digital inequities in our community,” she said. “Collaborations between community institutions and organizations as well as public-private partnerships like this are the best way forward until all members of our community can benefit fully from reliable internet access.”

Spectrum and other cable providers nationwide have been criticized in low-density communities for leaning on their monopoly power to avoid providing updated service. Laying the lines for broadband can be costly, and when those costs can’t be offset with strong revenue streams, it makes the decision an economic challenge.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to expand the Spectrum network to additional homes and businesses,” Pritchard said. “A variety of factors affect our expansion decisions, including the number of additional homes or businesses we can reach, geographic or construction challenges, and overall economic feasibility.”

Last month, Spectrum/Charter completed a project to bring a wireless access point to the Red Hook Rec Park. That project was jointly funded by the Red Hook Rotary Club, the Red Hook Public Library, and the Town of Red Hook. This access point, it is hoped, will be the first of several throughout the village and town.

Photo: Google Maps photo of Hapeman Hill Road

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