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Inside Gov. Kathy Hochul’s $1 billion plan to fix New York’s internet

Inside Gov. Kathy Hochul's $1 billion plan to fix New York's internet
Written by publishing team

Here’s what to know about the $15 per month continuing status plan:

What is ConnectALL?

Gov plans. Hochul to fund ConnectALL through $300 million in state budget, and at least $345 million in federal funding. The state is also expecting hundreds of millions of additional federal dollars from the Infrastructure and Jobs Investment Act that Congress approved last year, bringing the total to $1 billion.

A central part of the effort depends on enrolling New Yorkers in the federal Affordable Call Scheme, a new feature created by the infrastructure bill. It offers $30 per month for Internet services to families with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines or eligible for federal assistance programs, such as Medicaid or SNAP.

The state’s role is to invest in marketing and outreach in order to enroll New Yorkers in the program. The pandemic-focused internet benefit from the federal government in 2021 registered only about 600,000 households in New York, which the state estimates is only 30% of eligible families. While many of those families who joined this program will move to the new family, the state has pledged to reach more people this time.

Valerie White, CEO of LISC NYC, a nonprofit that advocates for investment in underserved communities, applauded the pledge.

She noted that the main way to reach people during the pandemic is the Internet, yet the people who will benefit most from the broadband program will likely have limited or no Internet access.

“You have to be on the floor, going door to door and with the print media,” White said.

Besides enrolling New Yorkers in the federal plan, Hochul expects to harness the funds of the federal infrastructure bill — expected to run into the hundreds of millions — to provide grants to projects that build broadband infrastructure. This could include helping municipalities build neutral fiber networks, which boost competition by allowing multiple ISPs to access the network. The plan also calls for building broadband into all affordable housing in the state and developing a detailed map of Internet options statewide.

Court Fights for $15 Bill a Month

The governor’s toolkit is missing a new law that digital stock advocates previously welcomed as a breakthrough. The state’s Affordable Broadband Act, approved in April 2021, would have required ISPs to offer a $15 per month plan for low-income families, with criteria similar to the new federal benefits.

Telecom industry groups filed a lawsuit the same month the bill was approved, arguing that the state had no right to regulate broadband prices, and that the law could cause smaller Internet service providers to stop operating.

US Eastern District Court Judge Dennis Hurley sided with the industry and blocked law enforcement in June.

Jason Gove, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email that the ConnectALL plan “focuses on ensuring that all eligible families receive up to the $30 per month discount now available from the federal government. When affordable broadband was enacted for the state, he successfully appealed.” Later, there was no such federal program.”

The New York State Telecommunications Association — among the groups that successfully challenged the $15-a-month bill — supported the ConnectALL plan. President Craig Miller said in an email that its members “look forward to playing a pivotal role and being active partners with (the state) in achieving the goals of this important policy proposal.”

on appeal

Attorney General Letitia James, who is defending the state’s $15 broadband law against the telecom industry challenge, quickly appealed the judge’s decision. The case is under review in the Second Court of Appeal.

In a November filing with the court, James wrote that the District Court’s “overarching precautionary ruling relied on the startling and unwarranted proposition” that states cannot regulate broadband providers because they provide interstate services.

This suggestion caught the attention of other countries as well. A bipartisan mix of 22 attorneys general — including California, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Nebraska — last month submitted a friendly briefing in support of the New York appeal.

The communications groups that filed the lawsuit are due to respond by next month, though the process is likely to take longer than that.

In the meantime, the state is wise to find ways to expand access to Internet options, said Richard Berkeley, executive director of the Albany-based New York Utility Project. There are still large parts of the country with only one internet provider, and some lack broadband completely, he said.

“The Affordability Act passed in 2021 is very important, but in and of itself it doesn’t just make broadband appear,” he said.

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