October 16, 2021 by Alex Gault

Congresswoman Elise M. Stefanik is asking the Federal Communications Commission to step in and stop the New York state Department of Transportation from charging providers for high-speed internet infrastructure.

In a letter sent to FCC acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, Rep. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, asked that the FCC use its regulatory authority to preempt the state laws that allow the DOT to charge fees for internet infrastructure run along roads it owns, which she called an“unlawful and discriminatory fiber-optic fee.”

Specifically, Rep. Stefanik is referring to the law included in the 2019-20 state budget that allows the state DOT to charge organizations that install fiber-optic cables along its right-of-ways for use of DOT land. Under the law, the DOT requires installers to pay for annual, fee-bearing permits for every foot of each individual cable they own along DOT roads. The law only applies to fiber-optic cables.

According to an article published by the Times in July 2020, the Development Authority of the North Country, which maintains the largest fiber-optic network in the region, has to pay about $2,000 per mile, for a total of $1.6 million per year for the roughly 830 miles of fiber they own along DOT routes. That accounts for a quarter of the DANC fiber network’s annual projected revenue.

In her letter, the congresswoman wrote that the fees charged by the DOT are discriminatory because they apply only to fiber-optic cables and that providers are exempt from the fee if their projects are funded through the New York State Broadband Program.

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

Rep. Stefanik said the fees are significant regulatory barriers preventing the development of fiber-optic internet networks in Northern New York.

In a press statement regarding the letter, Rep. Stefanik blamed Albany and bureaucracy for the continued application of the fees.

“Residents of the North Country have been forced to miss out on critical internet access because of New York state’s corrupt practices,”she said.“While the state continues to line their pockets at the expense of our rural communities, I am proud to continue pushing for results until every resident of the North Country can access affordable, high-speed internet from their homes, schools and businesses.”

In the same release, multiple state representatives for the north country said they would like to see the DOT fees for fiber-optic networks removed, as internet access remains a top problem for many of the region’s residents.

“Fees out of Albany have deterred companies from doing the work needed to expand and provide service to the underserved parts of the state,”said Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown.“I’d like to thank Congresswoman Stefanik for asking the FCC to exercise some common sense on this matter. I’m leading a bipartisan effort to repeal this fiber tax, and we’re honored to have Congresswoman Stefanik running the issue to the top of the flagpole federally.”

Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, said he hears from constituents weekly about their frustrations with a lack of access to broadband, and has met with a number of broadband companies that find the DOT fees to be frustrating and limiting for development.

“That is why I have continuously advocated to end this Department of Transportation fee and I hope that the FCC will be able to intervene on behalf of people across the North Country who are still waiting to be connected to broadband,”he said.

State Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Daniel G. Stec, R-Queensbury, also thanked the congresswoman for her advocacy. Sen. Ritchie said high-speed internet access has been proven essential, while the state’s“nonsensical”fee stifles development.

“I would like to thank Rep. Stefanik for raising this issue on the federal level and am hopeful these efforts will help remove barriers to broadband expansion in underserved areas of our state,”Sen. Ritchie said.

Read the full article here.