New York broadband providers are slow to react and to the details of a new state program requiring mid-sized and large companies to provide internet service for low-income families for $15 per month.
The state’s historic $212 billion budget, which the Legislature adopted nearly a week late Wednesday night, mandated a new program requiring companies that provide internet connection to 20,000 households or more to offer broadband service of at least 25 Mbps at the discounted rate of $15 per month to state households in need.
Mid-Hudson Cable provides broadband services in Greene, parts of Columbia and a small portion of Albany County, and has about 22,000 subscribers with broadband service, Rachel Puckett, a spokesperson with Mid-Hudson Cable said Friday.
Company representatives remain uncertain the new program and how it will apply to the phone, television and internet provider based in Catskill.
“We’ve heard abut the proposed program, but we just don’t have enough information about the New York state program to know how it will impact us,” Puckett said.
Mid-Hudson Cable is participating in the federal Emergency Broadband Benefit program through American Cable Association and U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which provides broadband services to qualified low-income households to help people stay connected online during the pandemic.
The program started April 1 and makes the cost of service free for qualified households. Mid-Hudson Cable will be reimbursed by the federal government with COVID-19 relief for participating costs, Puckett said.
New Yorkers who may receive the new $15 monthly benefit, Public Service Commission spokesman James Denn said Friday, include people who are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch through the National School Lunch Program or people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
New Yorkers who receive Medicaid benefits or people enrolled in senior citizen or disability rent increase exemptions may also apply for the program. Recipients of utility benefits may also be eligible, Denn said.
“The enacted state budget includes first-in-the-nation legislation requiring internet service providers to offer an affordable $15 per month high-speed internet plan to qualifying low-income households,” Denn said. “To further bridge the gap, the state has partnered with Schmidt Futures and the Ford Foundation to launch ConnectED NY, an emergency fund to provide approximately 50,000 students in economically disadvantaged school districts with free internet access through June 2022. Providers need to offer the service within 60 days.”
Lara Pritchard, senior director of communications for Charter Communications’s Northeast Region, would not comment on the state’s new program or the potential fiscal impacts on the company.
“We are studying the new law and don’t have anything to add right now,” Pritchard said Friday.
Since 2017, the company has had the Spectrum Internet Assist Program, which offers $14.99 a month internet service to households with one or more members who receive benefits from the National School Lunch Program, Community Eligibility Provision of the school lunch program or Supplemental Security Income for applicants aged 65 and older.
Shannon Sullivan, spokesperson for Consolidated Communications, said the new program would not apply to the company, formerly known as Fairpoint Communications.
“We would be exempt from this requirement based on the number of homes passed in the market,” Sullivan said. “Consolidated offers a range of affordable services for our customers. Specific pricing varies based on the mix of subscribed services.”
The state Public Service Commission ruled the $15/month program would have an unsustainable financial impact on companies that provide connectivity to fewer than 20,000 New York homes.
Verizon Wireless, which offers high-speed fiber internet, phone and television services, did not return requests for comment as of press time Friday afternoon.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week threatened to revoke providers’ state franchises if they refuse to participate.
“To these internet companies, I say, again, you don’t operate in the state of New York by an act of God — you operate in the state of New York by the will of the people,” Cuomo said Wednesday during a briefing about the 2021-22 budget. “If you do not do this, you will lose your franchise in the state of New York and that’s a promise.”
Cuomo included plans to improve statewide broadband connectivity and affordability in his executive budget released in January. Thousands of students without proper internet connectivity at home fell behind in schoolwork and education during the COVID-19 pandemic, widening the disparities in poor, Black and Latino communities.
“Everyone has to have access — not only access, but access to affordable broadband,” Cuomo said, adding the Legislature also budgeted for a $15 million fund to help low-income students connect to free internet access. “We learned a terrible lesson with remote learning. Remote learning works if the student has the right devices, if the student has internet access, if the student’s family can afford internet service. So, this is a major reform for social equity.”
The state budget also includes a $1 million provision requiring the Public Service Commission to publish a detailed map of the state’s broadband access and conduct a comprehensive study on New York’s high-speed internet availability, reliability and cost.
Earlier this year, Gov. Cuomo vetoed a bill spending $3 million on more detailed maps after lawmakers passed a measure to study the state’s connectivity, challenging a national statistic that 98% of the state has access to high-speed internet service. The governor promised to include funding for the new maps in the 2021-22 spending plan.