New York has launched a $1 billion broadband program that could raise the bar for state-level high-speed Internet expansion efforts.
The plan features a $500 million investment from the state of New York, awards from which must be matched at a 1:1 ratio by providers and communities interested in building or extending a broadband network. Called the New NY Broadband Program, participants must provide speeds of at least 100 Mbps, and projects require local input to guide development.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called access to high-speed Internet “critical” for state residents. The press release announcing the program noted that broadband is currently responsible for approximately 20 percent of new jobs across all businesses in New York, and 30 percent of new jobs in businesses of fewer than 20 employees. In addition, the state spotlighted the need for connectivity for farmers, students and rural physicians.
Public funding for the initiative is coming from capital funds from bank settlements, according to the state's announcement. The New NY Broadband Program complements Cuomo's existing $70 million Connect NY broadband grants that were awarded to improve high-speed Internet access in the state's remote areas.
New York's plan comes on the heels of a flurry of recent municipal broadband activity. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama stated his desire for more competition in the broadband market earlier this month, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has introduced federal legislation to outlaw state restrictions on municipal networks.
At first blush, broadband advocates are generally supportive of the New NY Broadband Program. Chris Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told Government Technology that the move was a “smart approach” to build next-generation networks. Mitchell added that the requirement to scale to 100 Mbps was good policy, as higher speeds are being required exponentially.
“This is definitely a way of encouraging more broadband adoption – in many cases people do not subscribe because they perceive the value is too low,” Mitchell said. “Why would they want to pay an extra $20 or $30 per month for a service that may be only four to five times faster than dial-up? Give them something 100 times faster or more at a fair price and more people will be interested.”
Broadband expert Craig Settles called the New NY Broadband Program “excellent.” He explained that there are approximately 140 cities that have 100 Mbps fiber networks built out, and he said he feels New York's plan would support the trend of municipalities that are showing the capacity and desire to expand high-speed connectivity.
Settles also sees the plan as an opportunity for local governments to partner with smaller private Internet providers to build expansive muni-networks.
“A community that has capacity and vision to build a gigabit network could partner with a private-sector company to help provide the matching funds, and then apply for the New York money to make the whole thing come together,” he said.
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.