Cuomo wants $15/month internet access for low-income families. How it would work.
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a state mandate for all internet providers to offer a $15-per-month plan to low-income families.
- The proposal was part of Cuomo's State of State Address Tuesday.
- He also proposed launching a state fund to provide for those students whose families couldn't afford a $15-per-month fee.
After five years spent expanding New York’s broadband network, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pinpointed affordability as the state’s next step in bringing broadband internet to all residents.
In Day 2 of his State of State Address last week, Cuomo proposed legislation that would mandate internet service providers to provide high-speed internet plans to low-income households for $15 per month.
Additionally, he proposed a state-established fund to support its lowest income students whose families can’t afford the $15 monthly fee during COVID, in partnership with Schmidt Futures and the Ford Foundation.
The state would require providers to advertise their plans to ensure programs reach underserved populations.
A basic broadband plan, which includes a fixed internet connection typically secured via fiber, cable or satellite, can run a family over $50 a month on average. Nationwide, one in five families can’t afford that rate, Cuomo said.
“Access is one thing, but access if it’s not affordable is meaningless,” he said.
The state launched its Broadband For All program in 2015, which allocated $500 million in grants for internet service providers to expand into remote or hard-to-reach areas of the state, many of which were in the North Country, Southern Tier and Hudson Valley. Since then, the state estimates about 98% of New Yorkers can access some kind of broadband internet service.
But issues of financial feasibility and internet quality complicated the broadband buildout and its aftermath, especially in the COVID-19 era when much of the state pivoted to remote work and education.
Parts of ultra-urban areas like New York City don’t have broadband internet options, and when they do, often families have just a few major providers to choose from, some of which may be prohibitively expensive. School districts stepped up to distribute mobile hotspots or tablets to remote learners last year, but access to high quality internet is still an issue at home, putting low income students at an educational disadvantage.
“Without broadband, telemedicine is not an option. Without broadband, you can’t apply for most jobs. Without broadband, the public education system, which was supposed to be the great equalizer, becomes the great divider,” Cuomo said.
Companies like Spectrum, which covers large swaths of the state with internet and cable service, already offer discounted plans for students and households.
Spectrum Internet Assist, a low-cost broadband service for $14.99/month with no modem fees, data caps or contracts, is available throughout Spectrum’s statewide service area to families who qualify for the National School Lunch Program (or the community eligibility provision of the NSLP) and seniors who receive SSI benefits, said company spokesperson Lara Pritchard.
Comcast, which offers internet service in the Hudson Valley, offers a WiFi plan at 25 megabits-per-second speed and no contract for $9.95 per month for eligible customers.
It was not immediately clear Tuesday what kind of internet speed Cuomo's mandate would require, or what income level would qualify. The governor will deliver his state budget proposal later this month, which often includes legislation and other details from his State of the State address.
“We have seen, through COVID, a low tide in America,” Cuomo said. “The low tide showed the systemic injustice that is pervasive in our society. We must act in this moment to address those disparities.”
Sarah Taddeo is the consumer watchdog reporter for USA Today Network's New York State Team. Got a story tip or comment? Contact Sarah at STADDEO@Gannett.com or (585) 258-2774. Follow her on Twitter @Sjtaddeo.