Cuomo proposes high-speed internet price cap for low-income families

Jan 13, 2021

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to mandate internet service providers in New York to offer high-speed internet to low-income consumers at $15 per month, and is seeking to create a fund for families that can’t afford it at that rate.

Cuomo, delivering the second part of his State of the State address Tuesday, said cost remains a significant barrier to high-speed internet, despite increased access to the service.

“Access is one thing, but access, if it’s not affordable, is meaningless,” Cuomo said. “A basic high-speed internet plan costs on average more than $50 per month. For too many families, this just isn’t affordable.”

He said that about 98% of New York residents currently have access to high-speed internet, but not everyone can afford it at the current rates. Some groups have disputed how much of the state actually has access to broadband and have called for more research into the data.

Cuomo said the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic were the driver behind his proposal. With more people working remotely, and students learning at home, access to high-speed internet has become crucial for many families.

“While we work to get as many businesses open as possible, we must also realize there will be a shift to remote business,” Cuomo said. “Online businesses will continue to increase. We must embrace it, not deny it.”

If families can’t afford to pay $15 each month for high-speed internet, Cuomo said the state would create a fund to subsidize that cost. The initiative would be developed with Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google who’s also chairing the state’s Reimagine NY commission.

The proposals would have to be approved by the state Legislature, which isn’t unlikely. Democrats in the Legislature have placed special emphasis on access to broadband in recent days, including in opening remarks of this year’s legislative session.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, on Monday, used part of his opening remarks to highlight the challenges that some families have faced this year due to limited internet access and throttled bandwidth at home.

“My colleagues and I have always said that education is the great equalizer, but when classes started streaming online, access to broadband, computers and tablets became the new great equalizer,” Heastie said. “Broadband access is not a luxury, it is a necessity.”

According to an annual report from the Federal Communications Commission, about 98% of the state has access to what’s considered high-speed internet, which is defined as a connection with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second.

But in some counties in New York — Yates, Otsego, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties — only about three-quarters of residents have access to high-speed internet, according to the FCC.

In rural Hamilton County, only 22% of residents have access to high-speed internet, according to the data. That doesn’t skew the statewide number much because of the county’s small population.

But some groups have disputed the FCC’s data, saying it relies on the wrong data. The federal agency uses data from census tracts, which can often be too expansive to narrow down. The means the agency’s numbers could be inflated, groups have said.

Some lawmakers have already introduced legislation this year aimed at expanding access to high-speed internet in New York. Those will likely be considered in the coming months.