After Pocket Veto, Cuomo Will Propose Legislation to Study Broadband Access in New York

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NEW YORK NOW – Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vetoed legislation that would have required the state to review access to high-speed internet, or broadband, in New York, and study the affordability and reliability of those services, saying he’ll propose a similar measure in the coming weeks.

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Cuomo had until the end of the month to act on the bill, which had near-unanimous support in the state Legislature, but let it die in the form of a pocket veto.

The legislation, called the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act, would have required the Public Service Commission, the state’s utility regulatory agency, to study the availability, affordability, and reliability of high-speed internet in all areas of the state.

Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said the administration agreed with the concept of the bill, but that its projected cost couldn’t be reconciled outside negotiations on the state budget.

Instead, Azzopardi said, they’re planning to release a similar proposal in the near future that can be discussed in tandem with the state Legislature as part of negotiations on the budget, which is due at the end of March.

“The legislation had a $3 million fiscal cost that occurred outside of the budget, thus it wasn’t acted upon,” Azzopardi said. “However, we agree with it in concept and will be including a proposal in the budget‎.”

The bill had been intended to supplement data on broadband access from the federal government, which publishes statistics on high-speed internet availability each year.

According to the latest report from the Federal Communications Commission, about 98% of New York state had access to high-speed internet last year, which is defined as a connection of at least 25 megabits per second.

But that’s likely not true, supporters of the bill have said. That’s because of how the information is collected and reported by the FCC.

The federal government’s data is based on what’s reported in each census tract, which are subdivisions of each county used for statistical purposes. Some of those tracts are sprawling geographic areas, with several residents included in the same dataset.

If just one resident in a census tract has access to high-speed internet, the entire census tract is marked as having access, according to the report. So, even if every other resident of a census tract doesn’t have the same access, that’s not reflected in the FCC’s data.

The Broadband Connectivity Act would have, essentially, required the state to drill down to the household level to develop a more comprehensive look at access to high-speed internet in New York.

It would have also required the state to study the affordability and reliability of high-speed internet, which can vary depending on the provider. The measure would have also mandated a review of competition, or lack thereof, among internet service providers in the state.

The first report mandated by the legislation would’ve been due sometime next year, and used by either the Legislature or the Public Service Commission to develop new laws or regulations on high-speed internet in New York.

Cuomo is expected to release an amended version of his proposed state budget in the coming days. It’s possible his replacement for the now-vetoed legislation will be included in that proposal, but it could also be addressed in budget talks over the next two months.

Supporters of the bill criticized Cuomo’s pocket veto of the legislation Monday, saying the state needs more precise data on access to broadband.

“This pandemic has laid bare the inequities and gaps in broadband access that remain a reality in many upstate regions,” said State Sen. George Borrello, a Republican from Chautauqua County who supported the measure.

“Residents and schoolchildren who lack this essential technology are being left behind educationally, economically and socially.”

The bill, passed last year, was sponsored by Democrats and received nearly unanimous support in both the State Senate and Assembly.