Telecom Giants Fight New York Program to Provide Affordable Broadband

“Bring it on,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told the trade groups suing to block a state policy that could help 7 million poor New Yorkers access the internet at home. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo takes off his face mask before a news conference in New York on Monday, April 19. (Shannon Stapleton/Pool via AP)

BROOKLYN (CN) — Seeking to block a New York program that provides discounted broadband internet to low-income families, trade groups representing Verizon, AT&T and DirecTV sued the state in federal court Friday. 

The complaint was filed two weeks after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law requiring internet service providers to offer broadband to eligible New Yorkers at $15 per month, or $20 per month for higher speeds. 

Cuomo’s office billed the new program as the first of its kind in the United States, and estimated that it would help 7 million New Yorkers in 2.7 million low-income households. Providers are required to offer the discounted broadband no later than June 15.

In a 19-page complaint, groups representing broadband and satellite internet companies said the move “intrudes into an exclusively federal field.” 

The groups are asking the court for an injunction of the policy, and a declaration saying it conflicts with Federal Communications Commission rules, which preempt state law under the U.S. Constitution. 

“Congress granted the FCC exclusive regulatory authority over interstate communications services, and expressly denied such authority to the states,” the trade organizations wrote. 

Cuomo said in a statement that he was not surprised by the filing. 

“I knew giant telecom companies would be upset by our efforts to level the playing field, and right on cue, they’re pushing back,” he said. “This is nothing more than a transparent attempt by billion-dollar corporations putting profit ahead of creating a more fair and just society.”

Families qualifying for the program include those eligible to receive 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. 

When Cuomo passed the bill, his office noted that a basic, high-speed internet plan costs around $50 per month, and that 43% of families earning less than $30,000 don’t have home internet — nor do more than a quarter of families earning between $30,000 and $50,000 per year. 

Trade groups filing the complaint include the U.S. Telecom Association and CITA (formerly Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association), suing on behalf of their members, which include AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile. 

America’s Communications Association, a group representing small internet providers, also signed onto the lawsuit, as did the Rural Broadband Association, the New York State Telecommunications Association and the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association. The latter represents DirecTV and DISH Network, both satellite companies that offer internet bundles through partner providers. 

The governor warned companies that if they failed to comply with the affordable internet program, “you will lose your franchise in the State of New York and that’s a promise,” according to the complaint. 

In response to the filing, Cuomo doubled down on that view.

“Let me be abundantly clear,” Cuomo said, “providing internet in the Empire State is not a god given right.”

“If these companies want to pick this fight, impede the ability of millions of New Yorkers to access this essential service and prevent them from participating in our economic recovery,” the governor said, “I say bring it on.”

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