State legislation proposed studying state-owned internet service for rural areas

ALBANY — New York won’t be looking further into a state-owned broadband service any time soon.


In early December, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that passed both houses and would have studied whether a government-owned and operated internet service could address the lack of internet service in rural areas.


While speaking on the Assembly floor in June, Assemblymember Aileen Gunther, the bill’s sponsor, urged the house to support the legislation.


Private providers are not reaching rural corners of the state, she argued, leaving families and businesses to make do with slow or nonexistent service. Her district covers rural downstate towns and villages in the Catskills, just north of the Pennsylvania border.


The bill would have studied the feasibility of a municipal internet service focused on serving rural areas private companies find unprofitable.


Rural areas are not typically targeted by private service providers like Charter Spectrum or Frontier Communications because of infrastructure costs; the state’s $500 million Broadband for All program, launched in 2015, awards state funding to local providers to build out networks in rural communities.


“We’re all spending millions and millions of dollars on privately owned internet service providers,” said Gunther. “In return for promises, a lot of our communities do not have access to the internet, or if they do have access to the internet, it’s slow and (internet service providers) are not, I think, fulfilling the promises made.”


The municipal internet service would be separate from and in addition to the Broadband for All program, Gunther noted. Assemblymember Andrew Goodell responded on the floor, saying the state should first look at whether the Broadband for All program is succeeding in covering rural areas before launching another state initiative.


“Before we go down the path of creating a government-operated system to compete with the private sector, supported by taxpayers across the state, I think it would be better for us to evaluate the nature and extent of the governor’s initiative,” said Goodell.


The bill ultimately passed both the Assembly and the Senate but was vetoed by the governor on Dec. 6.


The Broadband for All program now covers 99.9% of New York households with internet speeds of at least 100 megabits per second, or mbps, and at least 25 mbps in the most remote areas, according to its website.


Charter agreed in 2019 to double its investment in Upstate New York and serve another 145,000 households by Sept. 2021. Charter will also contribute $12 million to expand broadband service to another 45,000 households.


These goals came as part of a settlement between Charter and the state after regulators threatened to kick the company out of New York in 2018. The state accused Charter of neglecting to fulfill broadband benchmarks promised during the company’s merger with Time Warner Cable in 2016.


Charter serves over 2.2 million customers in New York.