The push for reliable high-speed broadband internet across the community continues, with a town hall meeting Thursday night in Cheektowaga.
Speakers and participants talk of a digital divide of students in the same school district who can access the web for homework and those who have to have their report cards sent home by snail mail. Speakers called for ratcheting up the pressure on the state Public Service Commission to declare broadband an essential service and force expansion of optical fiber computer lines.
NYSUT board member and Hamburg schools guidance counselor John Mrozek says broadband has become crucial for education.
"Broadband levels the playing field and, honestly, Hamburg is certainly in a position where nearly everybody has access to it. But I also speak from experience where I know that lots of communities don't. Students who don't have it, parents don't have it, they're at a deficit," Mrozek said.
In the Cheektowaga school district, guidance counselor Frank Marchese says around 60 percent of the students have broadband and the district encourages use of the library and its computers. He says that easy familiarity with computers is essential in the world students are moving into.
"The number one use of the Collins Library is for the free WiFi that's available there because no one else has access. So what we need to do is send a message that when we don't have this municipal broadband, when we don't have this access to high-speed internet and other communities across the country do, it only puts us behind the eight ball," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Poloncarz and others at the meeting say lack of high-speed broadband, not just in the Southtowns but in parts of Buffalo and Cheektowaga, hurt economic development activities because companies want high-speed service for their businesses.