IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Telecom Files Suit Against New York's $15-a-Month Internet Law

Last month New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that requires broadband companies to offer a $15 monthly Internet plan for low-income citizens. Telecom companies have fired back with a lawsuit to block the legislation.

Digital concept of lawsuit
(TNS) — A group of telecommunications trade groups that represent a broad range of Internet providers has filed a lawsuit trying to block Gov. Andrew Cuomo's landmark new law that would make them provide $15-a-month Internet service to low-income customers.

The new law, which was passed as part of the state budget last month, is part of a broader effort by the Cuomo administration to ensure that everyone in the state — regardless of income or location — can get high-speed Internet, which during the pandemic has become more important than ever as students and workers have been forced to work and study from home.

Last week, the New York State Telecommunications Association, the Wireless Association and other groups like the Rural Broadband Association, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn seeking to block the law on the grounds that it violates federal policy to not interfere with Internet rates.

"Indeed, the broadband service that New York seeks to regulate has never been subject to rate regulation at the federal or state level," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit notes that many companies already have low-cost offerings for qualified low-income customers and that the federal government already provides subsidies to telecom companies to provide these low-cost packages.

The lawsuit says that the new New York law goes into effect June 15, and that it allows companies to offer a standard speed $15-a-month plan or a $20 plan with faster speeds.

"New York, however, now seeks to regulate broadband rates," the lawsuit states. "In short, New York has overstepped its regulatory authority. The rate regulation is preempted under both conflict and field preemption principles."

A call to Bob Puckett, president of the New York State Telecommunications Association in Albany, was not immediately returned.

However, Spectrum, which is the major cable TV and Internet provider in the Capital Region, says through a spokesperson it is not a party to the lawsuit either directly or through any industry association, although it is "evaluating" the suit as well as the new law.

Spectrum has an existing $14.99 Internet service offer for low-income customers that has been in place for several years that likely already complies with the new law.

Verizon, which also provides cable TV and Internet in the Capital Region, has its own $20-a-month low-income plan.

Cuomo, however, is not happy about the lawsuit, which could delay the start of the new law in June if the trade associations can get a judge to block it temporarily as the suit is considered.

"COVID hasn't only threatened the health and well-being of New Yorkers, but it exposed the many injustices preventing millions of people from building a prosperous life," Cuomo said in a statement. "Now more than ever, it's critical we break down these barriers and ensure every New Yorker is able to take part in our post-COVID recovery."

The governor said he expected the industry would be upset by the law and would seek to stop it. His administration has continuously pushed the envelope to treat Internet providers as utilities, like phone and electric companies, as the internet has gone from a luxury to a necessity the past 30 years.

"Let me be abundantly clear — providing Internet in the Empire State is not a god given right," Cuomo said. "If these companies want to pick this fight, impede the ability of millions of New Yorkers to access this essential service and prevent them from participating in our economic recovery, I say bring it on."

©2021 Times Union, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.