NEW SCOTLAND — Officials are moving to take legal action against Time Warner Cable, as a staggering number of residents are without Internet service.
It is not known just how many of the roughly 1,100 subscribed homes in town are without Internet service. In order to discover just how many homes are without, the town is planning to file a lawsuit against the Public Service Commission, which has previously denied requests for this information.
Though not the primary purpose, this action will likely serve as a leveraging tool as the town begins renegotiating its franchising agreement contract with Time Warner, which ends in 2018. While the contract, which is renegotiated every 10 years, requires Internet access to be provided for roads that contain 30 houses per linear cable mile, some residents say their roads have more homes and still lack access.
In February, Peter Henner, a lawyer in Clarksville, filed a freedom of information (FOIL) request for an exact number of homes in town that are without Internet access. Time Warner refused the request, citing the information as a “trade secret,” one of few FOIL exemptions, made to protect businesses from competitors, and the decision was upheld by the Public Service Commission.
“Basically, this is nonsense. No one else is competing against Time Warner, so how is this possibly something that a competitor can use to its benefit?” Henner asked. “Whether its 500 or 300 or 100 homes, I think the Public Service Commission ought to say it’s not a trade secret and make [information on the number of unserved houses] public.”
In his research, Henner has not found any past cases that address this issue specifically. However, to him, “it seems basic common sense that information on how many homes do not receive Internet be made public because this information would not cause injury to Time Warner.”
According to Town Supervisor Doug LaGrange, large chunks of Route 32 are unserved, including the State Troopers barracks in Clarksville, as well as on County Route 112, where Mr. Henner lives. Rural roads connecting to Route 85A are also largely unserved, despite their proximity to the major roadway, which is served.
“There no rhyme or reason to it. It’s kind of odd when you take a look at it,” said LaGrange, referring to a map of served and unserved areas, which the town has created without help from Time Warner.
Those who lack access have the choice to either pay tens of thousands of dollars to connect their homes, or use Internet from other sources, such as cell phone data. The supervisor himself lives in an unserved area, and uses DirecTV for cable, which he said had a sporatic signal, and uses a Wi-Fi card from Verizon so that he can receive Internet service.
Tyler Salonich, of Voorheesville, was quoted over $16,000 to connect his home off of Route 443. “They’ve got us by the throat. There are 10 more houses that could be connected before it ever reached my home,” which lies at the end of the road, said Salonich. Salonich is on a waiting list to be connected to the internet through Verizon FIOS, but since it has already been several months since he made the request, he does not anticipate any progress being made there. He has also reached out to Connect America, a non-profit company that aims to provide Internet access to all of the country. In the meantime, his sole source of Internet is at work.
When Samuel Breslin moved to New Scotland, he had no idea that his home did not have Internet service. “When I bought my house in 2013, on the listing it said high-speed Internet, so it never even crossed my mind. Then after we moved in, Time Warner quoted us over $40,000 for cable and Internet.” Breslin was appalled. Houses at both ends of his street were receiving fine quality Internet, but his home, built in 1848, and other homes in the middle of the street, were not.
Breslin once attempted to download Microsoft Office, a program that should have taken mere minutes under normal Internet speeds, but found the task to be virtually impossible. Streaming an episode of a television show means waiting for minutes to watch just a few seconds of a program. Attempts to contact the Public Service Commission with his complaints have yielded exceedingly few results, said Breslin, as have attempts to contact the state’s broadband office.
Breslin now uses Internet from his phone, which he said was prohibitively expensive. He also fears that as his daughter and other members of the younger generation who live in town will be at a great disadvantage without access to Internet. His only reassurance comes from the town’s perseverance on this issue.
“The key here that we want to make clear to the state and Time Warner is that there is a larger and larger population that looks to work from home,” said Supervisor LaGrange. “New Scotland, whether we like it or not, is a rural community. People are choosing to live rurally to help escape from rat race. Schools are requiring more and more to do homework be done through the internet. That’s where we are today. The internet is crucial for families. This fact is even more true than it was when the town last negotiated its contract with Time Warner nearly ten years ago.”
In last year’s state budget, $50 million was dedicated to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Broadband for All initiative, which aims to have Internet available at high speeds for all New Yorkers by 2018.
Deadlines for application to the Broadband for All program just passed on April 16. Breslin did apply, but said he only received an automated response denying his application. When the program was in its initial phases, Henner, the lawyer from Clarksville, placed a FOIL request to view public comment that the department collected. When the office refused to disclose these comments, Henner filed a lawsuit, and was able to gain the records from New York State Broadband Authority.
State Senator George Amedore, who represents the region, has also expressed interest in the issue. Last fall, Amedore’s office last fall, a survey inquiring as to the quality of internet service in rural areas, but resolving the issue of Internet access in rural areas will largely fall upon the individual municipalities, who enter into franchise agreements with Internet providers.
“I think we have a very good chance of bettering service in town through this next agreement,” said Supervisor LaGrange.
The town is already in the process of fashioning a proposal for auditing firms, and plans to hire an attorney to intervene with Time Warner. Henner has applied for the post.
“Obviously, what the town needs to do is we need to be there at table with the Public Service Commission. We want to do this sooner rather than later and we want them to take care of our town in particular, and do the right thing by all rural residents who don’t have Internet.”
In the meantime, countless homes will still be without Internet, until the contract is finalized in 2018.