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Washington County supervisors lobby for better broadband to aid virtual learning

Washington County supervisors lobby for better broadband to aid virtual learning

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FORT EDWARD — The Washington County Board of Supervisors lobbied state and federal leaders Friday to improve internet services in the county.

State Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, joined the virtual meeting and heard the concerns of the supervisors, particularly in towns that currently have no broadband service like Dresden, Salem and Hebron.

“Schools are talking about not reopening, and my taxpayers are calling me and wanting their money back for the school taxes,” said Dresden Supervisor Paul Ferguson. “Our kids aren’t able to be on the internet to be at a virtual school.”

Hebron Supervisor Brian Campbell said his residents attend five different school districts — Salem, Granville, Hartford, Greenwich and Argyle. Hebron has no internet service other than satellite.

“So the people in those five districts, because they live in Hebron, suffer with lack of internet,” he said.

Stec said he also heard from the Whitehall Central School District with concerns about internet accessibility. He said the state is well aware of the problem.

“I will be very surprised if you see anything significantly changed in internet access by the beginning of September when schools want to open,” Stec said.

Announced in 2015, the Broadband For All program allotted $24.5 million to Washington County to invest in increased access to broadband service. Four providers that submitted bids were selected by the state to receive funding to increase access to broadband service in the county: SLIC Network Solutions, Hudson Valley Wireless, Verizon and Hughes Network Systems.

Much of the work has already been done, but work has been slowed by the pandemic. The problem, which existed before the coronavirus pandemic, has also been exacerbated as students and parents worked from home.

Stefanik said the upcoming stimulus package will contain funding for school districts, particularly for technology resources for students and teachers.

“If anything, this crisis has highlighted the digital divide,” Stefanik said, “and the fact that it is unacceptable that a student in Dresden or in Salem doesn’t have the same access as a student in Saratoga Springs.”

Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff also suggested towns try to secure a short-term mobile broadband unit, which he called a “cow,” until a permanent infrastructure is ready. Haff said he used to have a “cow” owned by Hudson Valley Wireless behind his Hartford home.

He said something has to be done about internet access now.

“It really is a huge problem with children trying to do their homework and everything else and attend classes and do everything else online,” Haff said. “This is something we have to do. We can’t wait any longer.”

Gretta Hochsprung writes hometown news and covers Washington County. You can reach her at ghochsprung@poststar.com or 518-742-3206. Follow her on Twitter @GrettaHoch or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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