Assemblyman: Rural communities struggling with broadband gap under COVID-19 restrictions

Legislative Gazette photo by James Gormley
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, asks for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to look at rural New York during the COVID-19 crisis, where residents still suffer from poor cellular and broadband coverage. 

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include the Rural Resource Agenda in the upcoming state budget which is due on March 31.

Santabarbara says the coronavirus pandemic has made it very clear there is a need for more resources in New York’s rural areas. At the top of the agenda are issues pertaining to the upstate cellular gap coverage, the gap in broadband coverage and rural ambulance services.

“New Yorkers are being asked to make enormous sacrifices to help slow and stop the spread of COVID-19. With all non-essential businesses closed in New York state, many are facing new challenges as they transition to working at home, especially in our rural communities,” said Santabarbara, who is the Assembly Chair of the Legislative Commission on Rural Resource.

“The reality is that many of our rural communities in New York state still do not have reliable access to high-speed broadband, making this move particularly difficult.” 


Cuomo’s Upstate Cellular Task Force has estimated that $633 million would be required to address cellular coverage gaps in the major travel routes of upstate New York. Some believe that the lack of coverage has led to a major safety issue that ultimately poses a risk when traveling in areas without good coverage.

With new remote work plans as the COVID-19 outbreak grows, individuals are affected at home and face limitations with the absence of reliable cellular service.

The goal of Cuomo’s New York Broadband Program was to provide broadband coverage statewide. However, some rural communities have still not received this coverage.

“For some, more costly cellular connections to access high-speed internet has been an option, but many areas of upstate New York are still without the basic cell phone coverage to meet the current needs of both family and work-life during this national emergency,” Santabarbara said. 

In addition to broadband and cellular access, Santabarbara introduced the Rural Ambulance Task Force and Stabilization Fund (A8397-A). The bill would require a study of ambulance service in rural areas and look at ways to provide better medical care for those who need it the most. 

“I urge the governor to prioritize funding for rural ambulance services and set these clear goals to help in this state budget,” Santabarbara said. “Dedicated emergency funds in the state budget would help stabilize these critical services until long term solutions can be identified through the state task force I proposed in Assembly bill (A.8397-A).”