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Lawmakers not impressed with Gov. Cuomo's broadband proposal at the State of the State address

Some consider it window dressing, others say the governor’s broadband proposals don’t go far enough to address systemic broadband issues in New York State.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — On Tuesday, January 12, during day two of his State of the State address, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he would propose legislation that would force broadband service providers to offer low-income residents of New York a $15/month option. 

“I propose we pass a first in the nation mandate that Internet Service Providers recognize their public responsibility and offer $15 per month high speed internet service to all low income households,” Cuomo said in his address.

But most of the major service providers in New York State already offer low-income service options. Charter Communications, which operates in New York as Spectrum and is the largest provider in Western New York, offers those who are eligible for the national school lunch program a $15/month option. 

Verizon, Hughesnet, Frontier, AT&T, T-Mobile, also offer low-income broadband options ranging between $10-$20/month.

Governor Cuomo was vague at best with the details of this plan. 2 On Your Side has asked the executive chamber multiple times about details, but haven’t received a response. 

One big question we had is would there be a minimum speed/bandwidth/data provision built into this plan. Critics of low-income broadband options say that users are throttled, data-caps are implemented, and that they don’t have access to the internet at speeds other consumers do. 

One unifying topic in for Democrats and Republicans in New York State is broadband. The consensus, at least among Western New York representatives in the legislature, is the executive chamber hasn’t gone far enough or has simply put a band-aid on, dealing with problems that have been growing during Cuomo’s tenure.

“I don’t think it does nearly enough,” said Assemblyman Pat Burke. “We've made a lot of mistakes as a state with broadband, they haven't really used it as the economic development tool that can be used for.”

Across the aisle, Republican Senator George Borrello said the governor’s plan to provide low-income populations with affordable broadband is wishful thinking. 

“It's a nice idea, but it's never going to happen,” Borrello said. “Especially with the oppressive taxes and fees that are being placed on these broadband providers.”

Borrello said approximately $20 of your monthly broadband bill offsets fees placed on service providers by the state. 

“This is window dressing, the real issue is access,” Borrello said. 

The other claim made by Governor Cuomo that unified Democrats and Republicans was regarding the current broadband coverage in the state.

In the address the governor said the following:

“Approximately 98 percent of New York homes now have access to broadband.”

This echoes a statement that the NYS Broadband office sent 2 On Your Side in the spring of 2020:

“Currently, more than 98 percent of New York’s residences and businesses have access to one or more high-speed wired and/or wireless broadband services. This represents a significant increase in access to high-speed broadband for many New York State residents and businesses from just a few years ago. After full implementation of all commitments announced in connection with the New NY Broadband Program, approximately 99.9 percent of New York households will have access to high-speed broadband – with 99 percent at download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and the remainder at speeds of 25 Mbps.”

But Senator Borrello and Assemblyman Burke reiterated that these statements aren’t based in reality. 

“We all know that roughly one in four schoolchildren throughout the state have no high-speed access, we know that there are huge areas of the state because of the cost prohibitiveness of the fees, that are not going to receive the internet,” Borrello said.

“I don't think that that's accurate.” Assemblyman Burke said of the governor’s coverage claim. 

One of the issues that 2 On Your Side has highlighted for the last year is the inaccuracy in broadband mapping. If one house within a census block has a connection, the entire census block is considered connected. This has led to widespread misreporting to the FCC, which the state sources its data from. 

Assemblyman Burke says he’d like to see the state implement a similar plan to the now on the backburner Erie Net project, wherein Erie County would run fiber lines that service providers could tap into. 

“We're 10 years behind, you know where we should be,” Burke said.