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New York State Mandates $15-Per-Month High-Speed Internet

Fifteen dollars a month is New York state's newly mandated price for a high-speed Internet connection for qualified low-income households under a new law signed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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(TNS) — Fifteen dollars a month.

That is New York state's newly mandated price for a high-speed Internet — otherwise known as broadband — connection for low-income households under a new law signed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo , the first of its kind in the United States, he claims.

And it can't come soon enough to the Empire State, which like the rest of the country has seen its economic and social structures dramatically transformed over the past 12 months to adapt to government lockdown orders.

Students and employees are working more from home. Shopping has moved online, and friends and families are having Zoom parties instead of house parties.

And it's all been facilitated in great part by higah-speed Internet service.

That is, if people have access to and can afford it, Cuomo said last Friday in Buffalo when he announced the new law was going into effect as part of the $212 billion state budget package.

The statistics on Internet service are concerning at best and unacceptable at worst. On average, Cuomo's office says, more than 40 percent of families that bring in less than $30,000 a year in income have a household Internet connection that costs $50 a month on average for just the most basic service.

More shocking, only 66 percent of Black households get Internet service at home.

"For America, broadband holds great power," Cuomo said during a press conference. "It will either be the great equalizer for society, or it will be the great divider. It can either equalize the playing field, where anyone can get access to information and education, or it will divide the society by income, by race, and by class, and as a divider, if you're not on the Internet, you can be left behind at 100 miles an hour."

Of course, laws are a framework, and often times the reality on the ground is much different than the hopes of even the most pragmatic politicians.

For instance, some parts of upstate New York don't have access to reliable Internet service — no matter what the price. In places like Albany County's Hilltowns, for example, high-speed Internet is spotty at best. Those rural areas are home mostly to white families — meaning the problem exists across the entire spectrum of race and social status in many upstate counties and cities.

But Cuomo's $15-a-month Internet for low-income households is a great aspiration that even his sometimes toughest critics are extremely happy about, including Beth Finkel , director of the state AARP chapter, who said the organization "applauds" Cuomo's $15 Internet law.

"Remote work, education and health care during the pandemic challenged too many New Yorkers without access to affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access," Finkel said.

AARP is also supportive of pending state legislation that would require the state Public Service Commission, which oversees Internet service in the state along with the Federal Communications Commission, to create a digital map of available high-speed Internet service in the state to find gaps in places like the Hilltowns where it is often too expensive for companies like Spectrum to extend service to all homes despite having a virtual monopoly.

Cuomo claims 98 percent of New York state has access to high-speed Internet service — whether residents can afford it or not — but groups like AARP believe mapping will show that percentage to be much lower. Cuomo has opposed the mapping legislation saying its $3 million cost is too much and that it would duplicate new FCC mapping requirements, although the AARP disagrees.

"Mapping the availability and cost of service across New York state will identify gaps and help state leaders ensure all residents have affordable access to connect to jobs, school, health care and their loved ones," AARP's Finkel said.

Still, $15-a-month Internet is not new. Spectrum, the region's dominant cable TV and Internet provider with hundreds of thousands of customers locally, has offered $14.99 Internet service to low-income customers since 2017 under its Spectrum Internet Assist Program. It is unclear how, or if, Cuomo's new law will impact Spectrum's program, which covers many of the same customers.

"We are studying the new law and don't have anything to add right now," Spectrum spokeswoman Lara Pritchard said Monday.

Some are also trying to build on Cuomo's vision by launching municipal Internet service that would be cheaper and faster than anything companies like Spectrum are currently offering.

The city of Albany is creating a municipal Internet service commission to look at trying to mimic what the city of Chattanooga, Tenn., created with its super-fast Internet service that has speeds of 300 megabits-per-second for $57.99 a month. That price does not require a customer to bundle with other services such as cable TV or phone, which is what Spectrum requires for cheaper prices with most of its contracts. A 300 mbps service allows a customer to download a two-hour HD movie in two minutes. Spectrum says all of its Internet packages in New York state start at 200 mbps.

"These Internet packages are often very, very expensive because they bundle it with TV, and with this, and it can be hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per year to get access to the Internet," Cuomo said last Friday in Buffalo. "And many New Yorkers just can't afford it, especially today, especially in a post-COVID economy."

The Spectrum low-income package doesn't require a bundle either, although the speed is only 30 mbps. It is unclear how fast the Cuomo administration will require its $15-a-month service for low-income families to be, although New York Internet providers will be required to report to the state on its $15 offers and other details.

Owusu Anane , an Albany Common Council member who represents the Pine Hills neighborhood, says cost isn't the only issue and that speeds matter since slow Internet can be a barrier to learning and working from home. Anane claims Spectrum's speeds in the city aren't always as advertised, although Spectrum disputes this assertion.

"Spectrum's 200 mbps speed is for customers who request higher-tiered Internet speeds, and there are many customers without that quality of service," Anane told the Times Union. "We now know how essential it is to have a broadband connection in today's world. Now's the time to get this done."

(c)2021 the Times Union, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.