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Federal ARPA funds earmarked to fight the local digital divide


Broadband internet service will be getting a boost statewide, after major local and national investments.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said improving internet access in New York state has been a goal of his for a very long time.

"I always felt that Franklin Roosevelt did a great thing by recognizing that electricity was a necessity in the 20th century and got Americans connected to electricity,” Schumer said. “Well, the same thing applies to the internet, to broadband access, in the 21st century."

Now, thanks to a $100 million federal investment, Schumer said his dream is becoming closer to a reality. It’s expected to help 100,000 families across the state gain access to high-quality internet.

The money is coming from the American Rescue Plan’s $10 billion capital projects fund, designed to help communities in need recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said the pandemic highlighted the digital divide, but the problems continue to this day. She said families need better internet to improve their opportunities for work, healthcare, and education.

"If parents don't have access to the internet, their kids aren't going to be able to do their homework from home,” she said. “They're going to have to do their homework at school, or a library, or a public facility."

The city of Syracuse is also using ARPA funding to help expand internet access. The new Community Broadband Program is designed to help at least 2,500 households in Syracuse.

U.S. Census Bureau data shows more than a quarter of households in the city lack internet access, and a third of Syracuse high school students lack high-speed internet access.

Jen Tifft, the city’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, said officials hope to help the communities most in need.

"If we're serious about leveling the playing field in the city of Syracuse, creating opportunity for all, which of course our administration is really focused on, we have to create digital opportunity for all as well,” said Tifft.

Tifft said this is just one aspect of closing the digital divide. City officials hope to work with community partners to also improve digital literacy and access to free or low-cost devices.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.