New York is Working to ConnectALL
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
New York is Working to ConnectALL
"High-speed internet is the great equalizer in today's world because it is essential in accessing basic services and information that we all need in our daily lives."
—Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY)
New York State is approaching universal broadband through both access and adoption—and recognizes that affordability is a key barrier to adoption.
Within weeks of taking office in 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) launched a Broadband Mapping Consumer Survey to assist in New York's first-ever in-depth statewide mapping study of broadband to identify the availability, reliability, and cost of high-speed broadband services across the state. "With this groundbreaking study," Gov. Hochul said, "we will help ensure that every part of the state—regardless of geographical and economic factors—has access to high-speed broadband."
Earlier in 2021, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) had vetoed the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act which would have required the New York Public Service Commission to study the availability, affordability, and reliability of high-speed internet in all areas of the state and provide a report and detailed map within one year.
"The legislation had a $3 million fiscal cost that occurred outside of the budget, thus it wasn't acted upon," a Cuomo aide explained at the time. "However, we agree with it in concept and will be including a proposal in the budget."
Previously under the Cuomo administration, the state had spent around $500 million to help broadband providers extend their networks. In New York's most remote areas, the state funded some satellite internet projects at speeds of 25 megabits-per-second (Mbps), which some residents and officials argued wasn't enough to handle heavier online tasks like remote learning or streaming video. Additionally, service plans were an average of over $50 per month, meaning New York’s lowest income residents often weren't able to afford high-speed service.
In April 2021, Gov. Cuomo signed legislation capping the cost of basic broadband plans at $15 a month and higher-speed plans at $20 for low-income households. New Yorkers qualifying for the affordable internet program included households who were eligible or receiving free or reduced-price lunch, supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits, Medicaid benefits, senior citizen or disability rent increase exemptions, or an affordability benefit from a utility. The law also requires providers to report to the Public Service Commission annually on their offers and uptake. [Broadband providers opposed the law and challenged it in court. The case is still pending.]
New York's Digital Divide
In September 2021, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released Availability, Access and Affordability: Understanding Broadband Challenges in New York State. The report found that New York had made great progress in building broadband infrastructure and noted that the state ranked second in the country for the share of its population with access to basic broadband speeds. However, there were still over 250,000 New Yorkers for whom broadband service was unavailable in their neighborhood, and even more for whom broadband was unavailable in their home or place of business. Deployment to rural areas lagged; however, nearly half of those in the state without broadband available lived downstate in New York City, Long Island, and in the Mid-Hudson Valley. In 2019, the share of households without broadband access varied from a high of 19.3 percent in the North Country to a low of 9.2 percent in Long Island. While 86.2 percent of New York households have access to broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps, only 13.5 percent have home broadband subscriptions of at least 250/25 Mbps.
More than 1 million New York households (13.8 percent of households in the state) did not have access or a subscription to home broadband as of 2019. Between 2015 and 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau reported modest growth in New York households with broadband subscriptions. Compared to national growth of 9.7 percentage points, New York household broadband subscriptions grew by 8.4 percentage points from 77.8 percent to 86.2 percent. Cost was an impediment for many New Yorkers. In 2019, one in three low-income households did not have access to broadband. In addition, large percentages of New Yorkers aged 65 and older and those with low educational attainment did not have broadband subscriptions.
Almost half of all households without broadband subscriptions were in New York City. While the Federal Communications Commission reports only 0.4 percent of New York City residents, or approximately 31,000 people, did not have broadband available, more than 513,800 households were without service. In contrast, the availability/adoption gap was far narrower in Long Island: about 61,200 Long Island residents did not have broadband available and 87,700 households did not have access.
New York's Broadband Programs
New NY Broadband Program
In 2015, New York State established the $500 million New NY Broadband Program. The goal of the program was to achieve statewide broadband availability by the end of 2018. Empire State Development's Broadband Program Office was responsible for managing the program, which included identifying census blocks eligible for funding, establishing grant disbursement agreements with broadband providers, verifying completed work, and creating a statewide broadband availability map. The Broadband Program Office made a total of 53 awards, consisting of 126 individual projects totaling $487.2 million, with $301.6 million disbursed by November 2021.
The program provided New York State grant funding to support projects that deliver high-speed internet access to unserved and underserved areas of the state. Under the New NY Broadband Program, “unserved” was defined as an area where the fastest available advertised internet download speed offered by a wireline-based provider is less than 25 Mbps. An “underserved” area was defined as an area where broadband service is only available from a wireline-based provider at advertised internet download speeds between 25 Mbps and 99 Mbps.
Implemented in three phases and leveraging private investment, the program allocated grant funding to qualified service providers through a 'reverse auction' method. New York State secured more than $1 billion in public and private investment to provide internet access to more than 2.42 million locations statewide. At the time of its launch, the New NY Broadband Program was the largest state broadband investment in the nation. Some key program successes are:
- Approximately 90 percent of New NY Broadband Program funds addressed areas without any terrestrial high-speed broadband option, connecting these locations for the first time;
- The New NY Broadband Program resulted in the deployment of over 21,000 miles of fiber optic cable;
- The New NY Broadband Program supported over 120 individual projects, with 32 different companies;
- The majority (56%) of company-partners were either family-owned or non-profit cooperatives;
- Through a landmark partnership with the FCC, New York State secured up to $170 million in additional funding from the federal Connect America Fund program.
2021 Connectivity Agenda
In January 2021, Gov. Cuomo proposed his Connectivity Agenda in his State of the State. The proposal included closing the digital divide as part of a larger agenda to realize a more just and equal New York. Cuomo's proposal included the following proposals:
- Mandate $15 per Month High-Speed Service for Low-Income Families, a First-in-the-Nation Guarantee of Affordable Internet for All Low Income Families;
- Establish a “Hardship Fund” for Families and Facilitate School District Purchases of Needed Devices;
- Catalyze New Broadband Infrastructure and Equitable Fiber Buildout Across New York State;
- Ensure Consumers Get Clear and Accurate Pricing Information; and
- Make Government Services More Accessible Online.
In January 2022, Gov. Hochul unveiled ConnectALL, a $1 billion public-private initiative to deliver affordable broadband to millions of New Yorkers and transform the state's digital infrastructure through new investments. The initiative includes:
- Statewide Digital Equity Plan and grant program to support New Yorker's use of the internet to participate in our society, democracy and economy.
- Rural Broadband Grant Program for areas that lack broadband infrastructure.
- Local Connectivity Planning and 21st Century Municipal Infrastructure Grant Program for municipalities, non-profits, and other entities to construct open and accessible public broadband infrastructure.
- Affordable Housing Connectivity Program, a partnership with New York Homes and Community Renewal to retrofit affordable housing with broadband installations as part of the agency's overall housing plan.
- Connectivity Innovation Grant Program to develop creative broadband solutions and ensure New York is a global leader in pioneering future breakthroughs.
- Led by the Department of Public Service, to promote the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program which can provide eligible New Yorkers a discount of up to $30 a month toward internet service and up to $100 for a new computer or another connected device. In October 2022, Gov. Hochul announced that one million qualifying New York households had enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program. New York was then one of the leading states in the nation for ACP enrollment with 30 percent of eligible households taking advantage of this federal benefit. Eligible New York households were saving more than $360 million annually.
- Broadband Assessment Program and Interactive Map, administered by the New York State Department of Public Service. In October 2022, New York's ConnectALL Office submitted over 31,000 addresses to the Federal Communications Commission under the Broadband Data Collection challenge process. The 31,798 records in the State's challenge are all among the 138,598 addresses identified as unserved or underserved by the Department of Public Service's (DPS) Broadband Assessment Program and include evidence that they meet the FCC's definition for inclusion in the federal map.
- Streamline Broadband Construction by eliminating fees, removing outdated regulations, and leveraging existing state assets.
In December 2022, Gov. Hochul highlighted the completion of New York's first-ever municipal broadband network. The $10 million, four-municipality pilot project completed construction enabling reliable, high-speed internet access to more than 2,000 previously unserved or underserved households and business customers. In addition to the completed network in the Village of Sherburne, Chenango County, construction was also rapidly progressing in the Town of Nichols, Tioga County. Part of the first phase of ConnectALL, the project used fiber optic infrastructure on the New York Power Authority's existing transmission system for "middle-mile" connections. Private internet service providers are using the public infrastructure to deliver internet service to residents. The new customers in Sherburne are paying approximately $40 per month for service, well below the average price for broadband in Chenango County.
Federal Funding for New York Broadband
Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program
The Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force, composed of delegates chosen by each of the Haudenosaunee Nations, won a $1.5 million Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program grant to install fiber to directly connect 440 unserved Native American households and 2 unserved Native American community anchor institutions with broadband service between 200/10 Mbps and 1000/500 Mbps. This project will improve Tuscarora Nation members’ ability to engage in remote learning and telework and accommodate numerous members of a household or small business simultaneously using bandwidth-intensive applications, such as video conferencing, telemedicine, video streaming, gaming, and virtual or augmented reality.
Connecting Minority Communities
Dominican University New York and Mercy College both won awards from the NTIA Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.
Dominican University New York received nearly $2 million to provide access to reliable technology and stable internet on campus and within campus buildings, update learning systems, and improve student technology to support technological fluency and student success in the classroom and in professional pursuits. The project's activities are:
- expanding internet access on campus by adding more wireless access points;
- providing subsidized broadband access and equipment (hotspot access equipment, Wi-Fi extenders, and headphones) to be lent to students for long-term use;
- hiring two additional IT staff members who will support training materials and ensure that students are able to leverage technological resources and, also, that faculty and staff are best positioned to use technological resources; and
- purchasing video cameras and podcasting equipment that can be used to facilitate experiential learning with technology and enhance remote learning to improve digital skills and IT workforce capacity.
Mercy College's Connected, Credentialed and Ready (CCAR) project aims to improve student outcomes by expanding broadband internet access, connectivity, and digital inclusion that will facilitate educational instruction and learning, including through remote instruction. With an award of over $2.6 million, CCAR aims to expand student access to technology and build digital skills and IT workforce capacity that will provide ongoing and sustainable benefits to Merch's students and the surrounding anchor communities.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act's BEAD and Digital Equity Programs
On December 12, 2022, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that New York received over $7 million to plan for the deployment and adoption of affordable, equitable, and reliable high-speed internet service throughout the state. New York received $5 million from the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program for:
- Supporting activities including the development of a high-quality Five-Year Action Plan, Initial Proposal, and robust Final Proposal, which will serve as roadmaps for transforming New York's digital infrastructure in rural and urban areas across the state;
- Developing of a preliminary budget for pre-planning activities;
- Providing technical assistance to potential subgrantees, including through workshops and events; and
- Asset mapping to catalogue broadband adoption, affordability, equity, access, and deployment activities.
From the State Digital Equity Planning Grant program, New York received over $2.1 million for:
- Supporting development of a robust and comprehensive five-year statewide Digital Equity Plan that will serve as a roadmap for achieving digital equity across the state;
- Stakeholder engagement;
- Capacity building statewide, regionally, and locally; and
- Data collection, asset mapping, and analysis.
Capital Projects Fund
On March 29, 2023, the U.S. Department of the Treasury approved New York's plan to invest $100 million (29 percent of the state's Capital Projects Fund allotment) to connect nearly 100,000 low-income housing units to affordable, high-speed internet. The award will fund the state’s Affordable Housing Connectivity Program, a competitive grant program designed to fund high-speed, reliable broadband infrastructure to and within low-income housing buildings. Capital Projects Fund funds will be used to upgrade internet access in affordable housing units. The program is designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps upon project completion. Each of the internet service providers funded by the program will participate in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program.
The Affordable Housing Connectivity Program is informed by a series of interviews and focus groups with owners, developers, and managers of affordable housing properties as well as statewide and regional housing organizations. These practitioners shared their best strategies, successful forms of outreach, and insights on enabling eligible providers to bring affordable at-home internet service options to low-income housing units.
The state estimates that this investment will help deliver broadband to approximately 6 percent of the locations that lack high-speed internet access in New York. The state submitted plans for the remainder of its Capital Project Funds and these applications are currently under review by Treasury.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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