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Cuomo Wants Low-Income High-Speed Internet Access

Expanding broadband access is a laudable goal.

Anyone who has tried to work from home or lead a child through Zoom classes knows just how important a dependable, high-speed internet line is.

We’re a bit worried, though, that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State proposal to require $15 a month internet service for all low-income households is putting the cart before the horse by assuming broadband internet has reached all the households that need it.

It hasn’t.

State officials like to tout the fact that $500 million in state investment has brought broadband internet to 98% of households. But state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, noted earlier this year that figure is widely acknowledged to be extremely inaccurate. He highlighted the fact that a recent independent report found that 726,000 kindergarten through 12th grade students in the state lacked access during the pandemic — 27% of all students.

“Parents in my district have been driven to desperate measures to assure their kids can get online to do their schoolwork, including parking for hours in fast-food parking lots for the wi-fi access,” Borrello said in September. “This is utterly unacceptable. The digital divide has become a digital chasm and one that threatens to leave our kids and rural families with a permanent educational and economic disadvantage.”

New York isn’t done with its broadband buildout, and it shouldn’t act as if it is.

Creating a required $15 a month broadband price for low-income families is also a laudable goal, but the devil will be in the details. Many companies already offer low-income internet prices for those eligible for the free and reduced lunches through their local school district or SSI, but only make those rates available to customers who don’t owe hundreds of dollars in back balances. Those programs also tend to be lower speed than the broadband services the companies have available, which makes us wonder how fast the state will require broadband to be to meet the state regulation and what equipment companies will be required to provide.

It will be interesting to watch the legislative discussion when the bill is introduced in the state Legislature.

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