ALBANY, N.Y. (WSYR) — The guarantee of affordable internet for low-income families was detailed in part two of Governor Cuomo’s 2021 State of the State address on Tuesday.

In what he described as a first-in-the-nation proposal, Gov. Cuomo would require internet providers to offer an affordable service at $15 per month to low-income households. The affordability requirements are part of a larger effort for New York to lead the nation in connectivity. The proposal also includes better protection for consumers, broadband build-out and market competition, and new digital inclusion efforts.

“Now more than ever, high-speed internet has become essential in every household. You can’t go to school, work from home, or visit your doctor by telehealth without it,” Governor Cuomo said. “New York has led the way in building out broadband infrastructure, and now we must ensure that internet service is affordable to give every family and community the connectivity tools they need to succeed.”

According to the Reimagine New York Commission, equal access to high-quality, affordable internet is needed for building back a better and more equitable New York. In order to do so, the commission outlined several key actions to be taken.

“Governor Cuomo’s broadband program enacted in 2015 represented a best-in-nation approach to addressing fixed broadband coverage for rural New Yorkers. Yet, over 2 million New York households remain without a fixed broadband subscription at home. We must now build upon the foundation of New York’s broadband program to address remaining barriers in coverage, affordability, and digital inclusion. A multi-pronged approach is key to addressing these remaining challenges for underserved communities across New York State.”

Richard Parson, Chair of the Rockefeller Foundation and Co-Chair of the Reimagine New York Commission’s Connectivity Working Group

Close the ‘homework gap’ by establishing a hardship fund

COVID-19 highlighted an urgent need for internet access. When schools turned to learning online, some students didn’t have internet access or the technology, like computers, to complete their lessons. The Reimagine New York Commission, Schmidt Futures, and the Ford Foundation have partnered to launch a new hardship fund to pay for internet subscriptions for students who cannot afford $15 a month during the coronavirus pandemic. The state is also working to expedite Smart Schools Bond Act funding to school districts in order to give students laptops and hot spots.

“Internet access is a human right, yet historically marginalized communities are still denied affordable broadband. New York must continue to strive for digital equity and universal internet connectivity so that all New Yorkers have the internet access and skills they need to fully participate in all aspects of society. Through the Ford Foundation’s work addressing digital equity and the digital divide, we have seen that it is essential for both government and internet service providers to do their part to address this critical need. New York can shine a light on what could be possible if we had a robust, diverse, competitive market to deliver affordable, fast broadband to every single home and business. This is a first and crucial step in building back a better and more just New York.”

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation and Co-Chair of the Reimagine New York Commission’s Connectivity Working Group

Consumer protections for broadband customers and other critical reforms

Part of the proposal from the Governor’s office includes reforms to help customers. The Public Service Commission will require a universal “broadband disclosure” that explains all charges on internet bills in plain and easy to understand language so consumers are no longer hit with unexpected charges.

New York is also taking other actions to encourage more investment from internet companies.

  • A “dig once” policy is proposed to facilitate the buildout of fiber across the state
  • Launching a website to help residents find an affordable plan in their area, report coverage gaps, and consumer experiences
  • More efforts to close the literacy and digital skills gap in underserved communities

“The challenges we have faced this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it abundantly clear that in order to move forward affordable internet access must be accessible for all New Yorkers. This is why the Reimagine New York Commission made achieving universal internet connectivity our first and most important goal. But simply having the internet available in your area is not enough. The proposals that Governor Cuomo announced today are critical steps to address the affordability, competition, and digital literacy issues standing in the way of universal and equitable access for all New Yorkers.”

Reimagine New York Commission Chair and Schmidt Futures Co-Founder Eric Schmidt

The 2021 Connectivity Agenda builds on the progress first made in 2015 when New York State invested $500 million to broaden internet access, an investment the state says brought internet access to 98% of New York households.