By State Sen. Dan Stec
The governor’s promise almost five years ago of high-speed broadband for all remains unfulfilled.
Having heard frustrated pleas from families, businesses, schools and many others, my colleagues and I proposed legislation last year to drill down into this problem and come up with solutions to end this technological inequality. The governor’s recent veto of our proposal is very disappointing.
In 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the New NYS Broadband Program, a $500 million investment to reach under and unserved regions. His website assured that as of 2018, “99.9 percent of New Yorkers” would have access to high-speed broadband. The state Broadband office last year claimed 98 percent of New York has that access.
However, based on my conversations with town and county supervisors, school superintendents and parents I am sure that is not the case for upstate New York.
During the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic last spring, over 700,000 students and 18,000 teachers statewide lacked broadband access as estimated by Common Sense Media. At a time when in-person learning was impossible, 27 percent of students couldn’t access remote learning.
On top of this, you had hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers working from home and businesses trying to maximize their online presence to offset the loss of in-person service. We saw that our state’s internet infrastructure was incapable of meeting the needs of a substantial portion of our residents.
The Legislature last July passed the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act (A.6679/S.8805) with near unanimous consent. The point was to require the Public Service Commission (PSC) to study the availability, affordability, and reliability of high-speed internet and create a detailed access map on its public website.
Our goal was to identify with highly specific detail exactly those who find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. Then focus attention and resources on fixing the problem.
Instead of signing this bi-partisan legislation, Gov. Cuomo vetoed it. In rejecting the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act, his spokesman claimed that “we agree with it in concept and will be including a proposal in the budget.” The governor’s budget was proposed on Jan. 19 and still we wait.
Last year, Gov. Cuomo said, “Look at the data…Listen to the experts.” Let it be known: the data shows that over a quarter of our children are already or at serious risk of falling behind academically due to insufficient internet access. The numbers show a strong online presence is crucial to keeping our economy afloat. The surge of New Yorkers struggling to schedule an appointment for the coronavirus vaccine make reliable, high-speed internet of paramount importance.
The lack of high-speed broadband has caused continued distress and disadvantages for so many in our communities and addressing this issue just can’t wait until April 1 when a new budget is due. I ask that the governor take action on broadband access immediately.
By State Sen. Dan Stec