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Gov. Cuomo signs legislation ensuring affordable internet to low-income families

The program will require internet service providers to offer a $15 per month high-speed internet plan to low-income households.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in Buffalo on Friday for a ceremonial budget signing to tout a mandate in the budget that would provide affordable internet to low-income families across the state. 

The program, which the state says is the first in the nation, will require internet service providers to offer a $15 per month high-speed internet plan to low-income households.

According to the state, 43% of people nationwide earning less than $30,000 are not connected to the internet at home, and 26% of those making $30,000 to $50,000 remain unconnected at home.

Those households that are eligible include families who are eligible or receiving free or reduced-price lunch, SNAP benefits, Medicaid benefits, senior citizen or disability rent increase exemptions, or an affordability benefit from a utility. 

"High-speed internet is essential to our everyday lives, and as we continue to reopen our state and adjust to new norms that have been shaped by the pandemic, we need to make sure every household has access to affordable internet," Governor Cuomo said.

"Remote learning, remote working, and telemedicine are not going away. This program - the first of its kind in the nation - will ensure that no New Yorker will have to forego having reliable home internet service and no child's education will have to suffer due to their economic situation."    

But what does that mean for Western New York Communities? Buffalo, along with Jamestown, Niagara Falls and other municipalities, have Spectrum as a primary internet provider. They already offer a $15/month option.

Verizon also offers a low-income option. Both are tied to the FCC lifeline program and national school lunch program. 

But none of the details of this announcement point to the state ensuring low-income residents get high-speed. 

According to the language outlined in the budget, service providers are only required to provide a minimum of 25mbps for the $15/month plan. There are no provisions that say providers can't impose data caps, and there are no protections from providers potentially throttling service to low-income users. 

That means households in low-income urban areas will still struggle with multiple users in the home. And rural households will struggle because even if they receive low-income service, it'll likely be satellite service-- which doesn't reliably provide those speeds. 

The proposal for this low-income mandate was a result of the Governor's Reimagine Commission. The commission brought together several tech leaders, including former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. 

The state is also partnering 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.    

Gov. Cuomo also launched the Affordable Broadband Portal to help New Yorkers find affordable broadband programs in their area.

The Governor also reiterated the claim that New York State has 98% broadband coverage. 2 On Your Side has filed multiple multiple freedom of information law requests to obtain the data that supports that claim. 

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