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Kent April 15, 2021

Pine Plains takes the initiative, and it could mean better broadband for Harlem Valley

The Millerton News Editorial

Here’s to taking the ball and rolling with it, because that’s exactly what the town of Pine Plains has done, motivating a number of other Harlem Valley communities to follow suit. 

About nine months ago, Pine Plains town Supervisor Darrah Cloud had the foresight to form the Pine Plains Broadband Committee, tasked with, in its own words as written in its just-completed report as of Friday, March 26, “to examine the broadband issue and to make recommendations.”

Now this report, thanks to the technical knowledge and expertise of those manning the committee who volunteered their time and energy to research, contemplate, debate and document all that they had learned, is much more detailed and thorough than what we can layout for readers here. Suffice it to say, the Pine Plains Broadband Committee took decisive action, including conducting a much-needed internet survey (as the federal government bases its broadband statistics on Census blocks that are incredibly deceiving, indicating 88% of Pine Plains households have high-speed internet — for more read this week’s front page). 

It also wrote the Report of the Pine Plains Broadband Committee, which it plans to submit to Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro; it’s already presented its findings to Dutchess County Legislature Chairman Gregg Pulver (R-19), one of Pine Plains’ very own. 

Bottom line, explains the report, “Fiber optic cable is a technology that strings bundles of tiny glass tubes and transmits data by beams of light. It has tremendous advantages over other technologies… notably almost unlimited potential speed of data transmission… it has no practical range limit… it is highly resistant to tampering for security. At present, it costs approximately $30,000/mile to string fiber to homes.”

The report further states that in Pine Plains, “there is a fiber optic trunk cable running along a few streets and… along Main Street, but it has not been deployed to any homes or businesses,” noting while companies like Altice are converting coaxial cable to fiber optic in more populated places like Westchester County, “it may be years” before it reaches towns like Pine Plains.

Presenting the plan to Molinaro is key, as the county executive is expected to announce the distribution of a possible $57 million in American Rescue Plan stimulus funds in the next few weeks specifically for broadband and infrastructure needs — geared toward northeastern Dutchess County. Unlike stimulus funds in the past, this time, said Cloud, word has it that the money would be made available to towns and villages. 

None of this has been confirmed, but there is a strong possibility of its likelihood, according to the supervisor, who said she has been in talks with U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado (NY-D-19), who is “trying to understand how the Feds will roll out the American Rescue Plan and what they will require of those who get it this time,” according to Cloud.

Known for her ability to work with others, Cloud reached out to neighboring communities early on in the process, contacting the nearby towns of North East, Amenia and Stanford about a regional collaboration to advocate for county support for improved broadband infrastructure. All three towns responded positively, and have had representatives attend the Pine Plains’ meetings during the past nine months. Cloud also contacted leaders in Columbia County, which is further ahead in the race for high-speed internet than Dutchess County, according to her; she also got in touch with Dutchess County and state lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the town of North East has created its own broadband committee; its chair, Rich Stalzer, became very involved with the Pine Plains group and helped draft its internet survey. That helped when North East drew up its own broadband survey, which went live on the town’s website on Friday, March 26 (for more, turn to Page A2).

North East is admittedly a number of months behind its neighbor to the west, but its town supervisor, Chris Kennan, an ex-officio member of the committee, is determined to work just as hard and be just as productive. 

Encouraged by all that Cloud and her committee have accomplished, Kennan said while the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the dire need rural communities have for reliable broadband service with concerns like remote education and remote work, it’s a quality of life issue at any time.

“We started to see that broadband accessibility is not a luxury, but really is a necessity in today’s world,” said Kennan.

It is, which is why we’re keeping our fingers crossed that those stimulus dollars will come through for the Harlem Valley, and that they will be allocated to where they’re so desperately needed. 

Our town leaders have done the work, with willing, competent, hard-working, dedicated and generous volunteers at their side. Hopefully their efforts will be rewarded and those who live and work in the rural communities we love to call home will be able to communicate as easily as the rest of the world can in 2021 — reliably, securely, dependably, consistently and lightning fast. 

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