ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Congressman Joe Morelle and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello hosted a press conference regarding broadband access in Monroe County Tuesday.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Monroe County was awarded emergency federal funding for internet access, Bello said.
Partially as a result of that funding, in recent months, the county has been gathering data on the efficacy of internet services in low-income and rural areas throughout the county.
Part of these efforts includes a broadband internet speed survey.
“Nearly one-fifth of city households and one-third rural households do not have access to high-speed internet. In the year 2022, that is unacceptable,” Bello stated in June, a statistic he repeated during the press conference Tuesday.
Morelle highlighted later in the press conference that Monroe County has the infrastructure necessary to deliver high-speed internet everywhere, and with the findings from the survey, they will be able to identify the other barriers preventing all residents from being able to access the internet effectively and equitably.
Morelle also announced the expansion of the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal service that provides discounts for monthly internet bills.
Morelle explained that any household with a family member receiving benefits such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Social Security are now eligible for a discount of up to $30 per month.
“If you did not qualify in the past, I strongly encourage you to check again, because enrollment has just gotten easier,” he said.
Bello described the findings from Monroe County’s survey as unsurprising, saying that residents reported internet costs as too high, with too few choices for internet providers.
Other residents who had plans described their connection as unreliable.
“Monroe County can’t thrive when it doesn’t have access to vital infrastructure,” he said. “High-speed internet is as essential to today’s economy and living in the 21st century as roads, electricity, and indoor plumbing.”
Bello called high-speed internet access critical to a variety of sectors, including education, business, and health. When Morelle took the stage, he expanded on this, highlighting the “digital divide” many students in the county — in both urban and rural settings — experienced when schooling was online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We used to talk about access to internet as something that we’re going to need to grow the future economy, right?” Bello said. “We always talk about ‘This is the future, this is the future.’ Well, this is no longer the future. Access is now. We need that access, now.”
“The internet and access to it is no longer a luxury,” Morelle added. “It is absolutely essential. And it is a requirement if you want to participate in daily life in America.”
Later in the afternoon, Bello will be holding a public hearing from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the same location as the 2 p.m. announcement, 115 South Avenue. He will be discussing the findings of the broadband survey.
The announcement took place at the Central Library of Rochester & Monroe County’s Baush and Lomb Building, inside the Technology Center.