Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has 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.
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.