CALLICOON CENTER — Bethlehem Road resident Sonya Noyelle remembers having to go up the hill to her neighbor's driveway in order to connect to a virtual doctor's appointment. That was before …
CALLICOON CENTER — Bethlehem Road resident Sonya Noyelle remembers having to go up the hill to her neighbor's driveway in order to connect to a virtual doctor's appointment. That was before Spectrum agreed to add the road to an existing buildout plan and has wired it for broadband at no additional cost.
Neighbors gathered in the yard outside Sonya and Thierry Noyelle's home on Sunday afternoon with State Senator Jen Metzger to express gratitude that broadband had finally come to their road after previously being told it would cost between $30,000 to $35,000 each to have service extended to their homes.
“Residents on this road had been trying to get broadband service for five years without success, and were in desperate straits when the pandemic hit,” said Metzger. “These are teachers, healthcare practitioners, and families with kids who were now learning remotely, all in need of a service they did not have.”
In April, residents had reached out to Metzger's district office in Liberty. With the help of Constituent Services Manager Ari Mir-Pontier, and after months of back and forth with Spectrum, the company agreed to wire 23 homes on Bethlehem Road for broadband.
Metzger spoke about her broadband bill that was passed in the State Legislature in July and what kind of impact it will have on closing broadband gaps in rural communities throughout the state.
Directing the Public Service Commission (PSC) to assess broadband access and affordability, the bill then requires the PSC hold four public hearings to meet with communities most affected. The PSC will develop a map of broadband access using more accurate data and present a plan to the governor and state legislature within one year to address broadband gaps.
“The lack of broadband has been a long-time problem here in Sullivan County, but the pandemic really magnified the disadvantages and inequality so tremendously,” Metzger said.
Patti Eggers and her husband own a house in Woodhaven, Queens, but they also have a home on Bethlehem Road where she's been teaching virtually to her students at a private school in New York City. Eggers teaches Science and English Language Arts and also acts as the “domain administrators” for over 240 students and 20 teachers, administrators and staff members.
“The pressure of trying to do this through satellite was just horrible,” Eggers said. Getting broadband on Bethlehem Road was “absolute teamwork on everyone's part. When they ran the wire we did a dance of joy on the road. We have to continue to advocate for our students and for their families.”
Neighbor Derick Melander said Bethlehem Road has many weekend residents who became full-time when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the state with force.
Melander said he used to pay hundreds of dollars for a combination of satellite service, cell signal repeaters, mobile hotspots “and none of it was really enough. I was still needing to go to friends' houses to work, go to the library or occasionally drive up to the top of the hill to take a meeting in my car.”
Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing only compounded the problem. Libraries were closed to the public and visiting the homes of friends was discouraged.
“Our response was to get organized,” Melander said. “It was clear early on that the only thing that was going to work with our topography and our needs was going to be cable.”
Yet Bethlehem Road is just one example of deficiencies in rural broadband and there are other projects on the state and county level to address the wider issue.
“We can't do this one house or one street at a time,” Metzger said. “We need big solutions. This is what we can do in the interim as we're developing those solutions.”
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