BUFFALO — Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Friday requiring broadband providers to offer $15-per-month high-speed internet access to low-income households.
It is the first law of its kind in the nation, Cuomo said.
“It can be hundreds, if not thousands of dollars per year, to get access to the internet and many New Yorkers just can’t afford it, especially today, especially in a post-COVID economy,” Cuomo said Friday at a briefing at Northland Workforce Training Center in Buffalo.
The bill requires all internet providers to offer high-speed broadband at $15 a month, including all equipment and fees, to low-income households and individuals who qualify for government assistance, Cuomo said.
For families that cannot afford the $15-per-month fee, Connected New York will finance 50,000 students and their families to cover the fee while remote learning remains a necessity, Cuomo said. The cost will be covered by an emergency fund financed by Schmidt Futures and the Ford Foundation.
Eric Schmidt, of Schmidt Futures, said providing high-speed access to all is critical.
“The internet is no longer optional,” Schmidt said. “It’s a moral duty, it’s the right thing to do.”
Access to broadband service has become more critical than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic with many students learning and employees working remotely, and telehealth services bringing health care online, Cuomo said.
“For America, broadband holds great power. It will either be the great equalizer for society or it will be the great divider,” the governor said. “It can equalize the playing field, where anyone can have access to information and education, or it will divide the society by income, by race and by class, and as a divider, if you are not on the internet, you can be left behind at a hundred miles an hour.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown spoke at the briefing and said the pandemic has made the need for broadband-for-all more important than ever.
“We know all too well how isolated and anxious this pandemic has made New Yorkers feel,” Brown said. “We know the tremendous frustration that has been in our communities. Those feelings were compounded for those without access to the internet.”
The internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for modern life, Brown added.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said rural communities in particular struggle to find high-speed internet access, but there can be issues in cities, towns and villages, as well.
“While we remain socially distanced, there is still an issue of connectivity in communities that is critical and that has to happen,” Peoples-Stokes said. “Students are at home trying to learn remotely, there are telehealth issues and people need to have access to good quality internet.”
Cuomo did not take questions from reporters at the briefing’s conclusion.