ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — Internet inequality has presented a prominent problem in New York and America. The state and the federal governments have been working to get households connected to the internet both in the short and long term.
Beginning June 15, internet companies must provide New York households with $15 a month internet service if they meet income guidelines. It’s estimated the law could help 2.7 million households get high-speed internet, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.
The law is part of the state’s long-term solution to solve connectivity inequity in New York. It was recommended by the Reimagine New York Commission. The commission was tasked by the Governor to help rebuild better technology in the wake of the COVID pandemic focusing on the areas of internet connectivity, telehealth, and workforce development.
Internet companies will have to provide proof they are complying with the law, which includes an annual report with a description of the service offered, and the number of customers enrolled in the service as well as other information. The NYS Department of Public Service (DPS) tells NEWS10 annual reports will be sent to its office.
Smaller internet providers, with less than 20,000 subscribers, are able to get an exemption from the law. The Public Service Commission can issue exemptions if compliance with the law “would result in an unreasonable or unsustainable financial impact on the provider,” according to DPS.
DPS told NEWS10 the Public Service Commission issued temporary exemptions to 53 internet providers on May 20. The exemptions were issued while “a more thorough analysis is performed on their specific exemption filings,” they said.
The law is not sitting well with some larger internet companies.
Some trade groups that represent telecom companies, including Verizon and AT&T are fighting back against the law saying the state doesn’t have the authority to mandate companies to provide low-cost internet, according to the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. They also said it could affect the amount of money companies are able to invest in or upgrade networks.
The program will be available for households eligible or receiving free or reduced-price lunch, supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) or Medicaid benefits, senior citizen or disability rent increase exemptions, or an affordability benefit from a utility, according to Gov. Cuomo’s April 16 press release.
In the meantime, a federal program being offered through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is helping households financially impacted by the COVID pandemic stay or get connected to the internet.
More than a million households signed up for the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Program in its first week. There are 2.31 million households enrolled in the program, the FCC said in an update on June 7.
New York had the fourth-highest number of households enrolled. There were 112,300 households as of June 7. California had nearly twice that amount with 219,675 households enrolled. Ohio and Texas came in second and third with 146,990 and 134,705 enrolled households respectively.
Households enrolled in the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Service program by state
|District of Columbia||4,613|
|Northern Mariana Islands||682|
The Emergency Broadband Service program provides eligible households with up to a $50 credit on their internet bill. Eventually, the program will run out of money. If it doesn’t run out of the $3.2 billion set aside by the Federal government for funding, it will expire six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an official end to the COVID pandemic.
The FCC plans to release how much in support has been paid out to households enrolled in the program but the information is not available on its website currently. If all 2.3 million enrollees received $50 a month, the program’s funds would be exhausted in 27 months. That’s assuming no more households enroll in the program and all current enrollees received the maximum support.
If the number of enrollees continues as it has since the middle of May, doubling the number of enrollees to 4 million or the number grows by even half to 3 million in the coming months, funds for the program could exhaust within 16-21 months.