New York Launches Affordable Internet Access Initiative

Yesterday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled a proposal that would require internet service providers (ISPs) to offer high-speed service to low-income families in the state for $15 per month. The press release explained that the planned price break is part of the governor’s 2021 Connectivity Agenda to Close the Digital Divide which will also establish a hardship fund for families in need and to require ISPs to meet disclosure requirements intended to eliminate surprise internet bills, among other reforms.

Reportedly, New York’s affordable internet initiative is the first-of-its-kind in the United States. For qualifying low-income households, ISPs would offer service at a considerable discount in view of the fact that basic high-speed plans cost on average more than $50 per month, the announcement said. The mandate will also require ISPs to advertise the option to underserved populations statewide.

The press release noted that the proposal will require terms of ISP contracts to be transparent. For example, providers must disclose “all charges, such as device, termination, activation, and equipment fees in plain and easy to understand language so consumers will no longer get hit with unexpected charges.” New York also plans to promote a “dig once” policy to aid the rollout of fiber optic cables statewide, establish a website to help New Yorkers locate affordable internet plans in their area and report service gaps, and make other efforts to close the digital literacy and skills gap.

New York’s pronouncement comes shortly after federal lawmakers voiced concern about certain ISPs’ decision to raise prices and enact data caps during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the FCC solicited public comment on January 4 regarding how it should allocate the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a fund intended to help low-income Americans access broadband.