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Lawsuit Filed To Block $15/Month Broadband Plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ready to fight internet companies that have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the state’s $15 a month broadband program for low-income state residents.

On Friday, several groups representing telecommunications companies filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of the U.S. District Court asking the federal court to stop New York from setting a broadband rate on the companies. The companies allege in their lawsuit that the broadband service New York seeks to regulate has never been subject to rate regulations at either the federal or state levels.

The trade groups say the imposed $15 a month broadband rate conflicts with a 2018 Federal Communications Commission decision upheld by a U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. that states broadband is an interstate information service that should not be subject to common-carrier regulation by states. The lawsuit also argues that the state’s rate regulation intrudes into an exclusively federal field.

“Both an FCC order that the D.C. Circuit upheld and the federal Communications Act preclude New York from regulating broadband rates,” the lawsuit states. “The court should declare that New York’s rate regulation is preempted and should permantly enjoin defendant from enforcing it or giving effect to it. … In short, New York has overstepped its regulatory authority. The rate regulation is preempted under both conflict and field preemption principles.”

They also argue that more than 50 state broadband providers already make broadband internet available to low-income households through the Emergency Broadband Benefit. Congress created a $3.2 billion program to help low-income households pay for internet during the pandemic, with the $50 a month subsidy program to begin in May.

It is estimated 2.7 million households in New York would qualify for the $15 a month broadband rate.

The telecommunications groups said it is unclear if a category of h ouseholds tied to households that qualify for free and reduced lunch through the National School Lunch Program would qualify after the U.S. Agriculture Department announced recently that all households with school-age children are eligible for free and reduced lunch through the end of the 2021-22 school year.

Cuomo said in a news release Friday that broadband is an essential service for remote education, telecommuting, telehealth and commerce, and needs to be available to all low-income New Yorkers. He had said in early April in a news conference that companies that don’t comply with the rate regulation will lose their license to operate in New York.

“I knew giant telecom companies would be upset by our efforts to level the playing field, and right on cue, they’re pushing back. This is nothing more than a transparent attempt by billion-dollar corporations putting profit ahead of creating a more fair and just society,” Cuomo said. “Let me be abundantly clear – providing internet in the Empire State is not a god given right. 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.”

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