Rural broadband experts, elected officials and school representatives were in Red Creek Tuesday evening as part of a broadband symposium hosted by Syracuse-area Congressman Dan Maffei.
Maffei, who has been a supporter of using technology to boost the impact of healthcare and education in the region, says by increasing access to high-speed Internet, it allows for a stronger middle class and could be critical to strengthening the upstate economy and promoting educational opportunities.
"What I'd like to see is essentially, at least every school in my congressional district be able to connect up to broadband," Maffei said. "Eventually, everybody should connect up to broadband, because it's such a vital part of the economy. Clearly there are federal programs available, the president mentioned it in his State of the Union address, which was great because I had already been working on the issue for a little while and have sort of seen how important it is. Particularly in Wayne County, Cayuga County and rural areas of Oswego and Onondaga."
Among those attending was Cayuga County Legislator Keith Batman, who called the symposium a first step in bringing broadband to the region.
"Broadband is a critical issue for economic development, for education, for socialization and actually for 21st Century life," Batman said. "If you look at the kinds of things that are available on broadband and the kinds of things that you have to do on the Internet, it's really quite obvious. It is absolutely the 21st [Century] equivalent to electrification."
He says Maffei's push to expand broadband access in rural areas will have immediate benefits, especially when it comes to education.
"The move in K-12, for good or bad, is toward more and more and more the Internet computer-based testing," Batman explained. "A student without that available in their home is at an immediate disadvantage, simply because of the inability to experience the test to practice. The access to information is limited, in terms of education."
Batman says the most expensive aspect of the project is laying fiber cable, which ranges between $15,000 and $30,000 per mile. He says the project could be made more affordable if existing infrastructure could be used.
Maffei and Batman stressed the power of high-speed Internet not only in education, but in healthcare as well. Maffei has previously thrown his support behind broadband access as a healthcare enhancement, by using telemedicine to connect patients in rural communities to specialists and other doctors in Syracuse.