January 12, 2021
ALBANY, NY – From The Governor:
Governor Andrew Cuomo today announced his proposal to enact a first-in-the-nation requirement for affordable internet for all low-income families as part of the 2021 State of the State agenda. Under the Governor’s proposal, all internet providers would be required to offer affordable service at $15 per month to low-income households. The affordability requirements are part of the Governor’s nation-leading 2021 connectivity agenda, which also includes a series of actions to protect consumers through better disclosures, promote broadband build-out and market competition, and undertake new digital inclusion efforts.
“Now more than ever, high-speed internet has become essential in every household. You can’t go to school, work from home, or visit your doctor by telehealth without it,” Governor Cuomo said. “New York has led the way in building out broadband infrastructure, and now we must ensure that internet service is affordable to give every family and community the connectivity tools they need to succeed.”
The Governor’s Reimagine New York Commission reported to the Governor that equal access to high-quality, affordable internet connectivity is a prerequisite to building back a better and more equitable New York. Informed by their recommendations, Governor Cuomo will take the following actions.
Establish First-in-the-Nation Guarantee of Affordable Internet Mandate
Governor Cuomo will propose first-in-the-nation legislation requiring internet service providers to offer an affordable $15 per month high speed internet plan to low-income households. Currently, a basic high-speed internet plan costs, on average, more than $50 a month. The State will also require providers to advertise this option to ensure programs reach underserved populations across the State.
Close the “Homework Gap” by Establishing a Hardship Fund
To bridge the gap during the COVID-19 emergency and help the most in need children across New York State, the Governor’s blue-ribbon Reimagine New York Commission, Schmidt Futures and the Ford Foundation will launch a new hardship fund to pay for internet subscriptions for students who cannot afford $15 a month during the COVID-19 crisis. To ensure students also get the laptops and hot spots they need, the State will expedite Smart Schools Bond Act funding to school districts to meet outstanding device needs.
Consumer Protections for Broadband Customers and Other Critical Reforms
To combat practices that limit consumer choice and increase the cost of internet services, the Public Service Commission will require adherence to a universal “broadband disclosure” that explains all charges, such as device, termination, activation, and equipment fees in plain and easy to understand language so consumers will no longer get hit with unexpected charges.
In addition, the State will undertake other actions to spur further investment in access including promoting a “dig once” policy to facilitate the buildout of fiber across the state, launching a website to help New Yorkers find the affordable plan in their area and report on coverage gaps and consumer experiences, as well as other efforts to close the literacy and digital skills gap that persists in underserved communities.
Reimagine New York Commission Chair and Schmidt Futures Co-Founder Eric Schmidt said, “The challenges we have faced this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it abundantly clear that in order to move forward affordable internet access must be accessible for all New Yorkers. This is why the Reimagine New York Commission made achieving universal internet connectivity our first and most important goal. But simply having the internet available in your area is not enough. The proposals that Governor Cuomo announced today are critical steps to address the affordability, competition and digital literacy issues standing in the way of universal and equitable access for all New Yorkers.”
Richard Parson, Chair of the Rockefeller Foundation and Co-Chair of the Reimagine New York Commission’s Connectivity Working Group, said, “Governor Cuomo’s broadband program enacted in 2015 represented a best-in-nation approach to addressing fixed broadband coverage for rural New Yorkers. Yet, over 2 million New York households remain without a fixed broadband subscription at home. We must now build upon the foundation of New York’s broadband program to address remaining barriers in coverage, affordability, and digital inclusion. A multi-pronged approach is key to addressing these remaining challenges for underserved communities across New York State.”
Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation and Co-Chair of the Reimagine New York Commission’s Connectivity Working Group said, “Internet access is a human right, yet historically marginalized communities are still denied affordable broadband. New York must continue to strive for digital equity and universal internet connectivity, so that all New Yorkers have the internet access and skills they need to fully participate in all aspects of society. Through the Ford Foundation’s work addressing digital equity and the digital divide, we have seen that it is essential for both government and internet service providers to do their part to address this critical need. New York can shine a light on what could be possible if we had a robust, diverse, competitive market to deliver affordable, fast broadband to every single home and business. This is a first and crucial step in building back a better and more just New York.”
The Governor’s comprehensive 2021 Connectivity Agenda builds on his work leading the nation in delivering equitable internet access for all New Yorkers. In 2015, the State undertook the largest and most ambitious broadband initiative in the nation, dedicating $500 million to broaden internet access statewide. This investment, coupled with regulatory reforms, expanded the reach of broadband so today 98 percent of New York households have access to high-speed broadband with download speeds of at least 100 Mbps. Furthermore, the Governor took critical steps to tackle the digital divide in schools by signing the 2014 Smart Schools Bond Act. This Act made $2 billion available to school districts across the state for technology devices and classroom enhancements to improve school connectivity, making it possible for schools to weather today’s challenges of remote learning.