Low-income New Yorkers will now have guaranteed access to high speed internet for $15 a month after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new bill into law in Buffalo on Friday, April 16.
Devoid of press but surrounded by a group of supporters — including Dr. Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo, and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes — Cuomo explained the new law is designed to address a major function of the inequities laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis.
“The key to success is always the same – it’s access,” the governor said. “Access today is not a highway system, it’s not a phone call, it’s the internet system and the broadband system.”
The law will require internet providers to offer all New Yorkers who qualify for other government assistance programs, including SNAP and Medicaid, high speed internet access for $15 a month.
Additionally, the governor announced that a select 50,000 students across New York state and their families will be provided with free mobile hotspots and internet access for a year beginning in May. The bill for the free service and hardware is being footed by Schmidt Futures and the Ford Foundation, two private philanthropic organizations.
“You combine the leadership from the state, the assembly, the governor, the governor’s office and private philanthropy and you can pull these things off,” Schmidt said.
The push to make broadband access more accessible follows a recommendation from the governor’s Reimagine Commission, which found that quality internet access is one of the most important tools to ensuring an equitable economic recovery from COVID-19.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child, but the village has moved to the internet,” said Charles Phillips, a technology executive who joined Cuomo on Friday. “These young people will now have the tools to change the world.”
In addition to education, the commission found that other crucial aspects of a healthy life, including medical care, job training programs and connecting to loved ones, have made access to the internet even more crucial.
Cuomo had a message Friday for internet providers that may object to the passage of the new law.
“The companies are not happy with me and they’re not happy with the law. Why? Because they will make less profit,” the governor said. “I take a different posture. They don’t have a god given right to be a provider in New York state.”
The fight against internet companies echoes a similar fight against the state’s gas and electricity providers, which came under fire last year after a series of storms left hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers without power.
Cuomo will have an opportunity to take action against the companies he denounced only a few months ago with a series of public power bills introduced in the Assembly earlier this year.