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New York Mandates $15 Low-Income Broadband Tier Available to All Who Qualify

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed affordable internet at the State of the State address in January 2021.

Low income New Yorkers will soon be able to subscribe to internet service at speeds starting at 25/10 Mbps for $15 a month, thanks to a new law passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

To qualify, a consumer will need to show proof of active enrollment in any of the following programs:

  • Medicaid
  • Free or discounted school lunches
  • the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps”
  • A senior or disability rent increase exemption

Almost every internet service provider of consequence in New York will be required to introduce a low income discounted internet program by June 2021. Consumers will be offered at least two options, depending on the technological capacity of a provider’s network:

  • $15/month basic service at speeds of at least 25/10 Mbps
  • $20/month enhanced service bringing download speeds up to 200 Mbps.

Rates will be fixed for at least five years, after which providers can increase prices based on the rate of inflation or by a modest percentage allowed by the state. In 2023, the New York State Public Service Commission will be permitted to require increases in the minimum download speeds offered.

The measure is part of New York’s effort to expand broadband availability and affordability across the state. Earlier broadband funding programs helped expand service into rural, unserved areas. This year, the legislature and the governor are targeting the digital divide between those who can and cannot afford internet access. The state’s largest cable operator, Charter Spectrum, already offers low-income customers its own Spectrum Internet Assist program, with similar qualifications. The company charges $14.99/month for 30/4 Mbps internet service, but excludes current customers from enrolling and may reject customers with past due balances owed in the past.

Gov. Cuomo announced the initiative at the State of the State Address in January. Critics called the plan “window dressing,” noting the state’s largest telecommunications companies including Charter Spectrum, Verizon, Altice, and Frontier already offer internet discount programs. Many also continue to question the governor’s contention that 98% of New Yorkers can now access high-speed internet and the overall cost and quality of service.

To assist residents in finding a suitable provider, the state launched an Affordable Internet website to help consumers sign up for discounted service. In some cases, additional discounts may be available.

The legislation also mandates the Public Service Commission to study and report back on internet accessibility and affordability by this time next year. The PSC will scrutinize how many New York homes and businesses still lack access to high-speed internet, as well as studying how reliable service providers are, what rates they charge, and the current state of competition in New York.

New York consumers can share their own experiences with internet service providers the state will use to guide potential future legislation.

WGRZ in Buffalo took a closer look at whether New York’s mandate for affordable internet service was a game changer or just window dressing. (2:33)

Locast Comes to Cleveland

Phillip Dampier March 10, 2021 Consumer News, Locast, Online Video 1 Comment

Cleveland, Ohio area residents now have access to over 70 over-the-air channels from northeast Ohio thanks to the efforts of Locast, a nonprofit service that streams local broadcast stations online with the request of a monthly donation.

The Cleveland broadcast market includes the cities of Cleveland, Akron, Ashland, Ashtabula, Canton, Mansfield, and Sandusky and encompasses almost four million viewers. Locast’s app and website use location verification to provide service only to those living or traveling inside one of their 30 service areas. To access Cleveland-area stations, online viewers must be inside Ashland, Ashtabula, Carroll, Cuyahoga, Erie, Geauga, Holmes, Huron, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, Richland, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas, or Wayne County.

Among the stations included: WKYC NBC 3, WEWS ABC 5, WJW FOX 8, WOIO CBS 19, PBS and PBS Kids, as well as DABL, Univision, Azteca America, CourtTV, Mystery, MeTV, TrueCrime, QUBO, Circle, The CW, BOUNCE, Movies!, LAFF, COMET, cheddar, ION, GRIT, Charge!, and more.

Locast now has more than 2.5 million registered users nationwide in 30 markets reaching approximately half of the U.S. population. In 2020, Locast added over 1 million users. The service selects new cities to cover based on donations and requests. Locast also looks favorably on requests that volunteer a safe and permanent location where it can locate its equipment to receive and stream over the air stations.

Congressman Clyburn Plans to Reintroduce $100 Billion Rural Broadband Expansion Fund Bill

Clyburn

Congressman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) plans to reintroduce a bill offering $100 billion dollars to provide rural high speed internet service in unserved and underserved parts of the United States and to provide subsidies as needed to ensure that internet service is affordable.

The return of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will be welcomed by the House Rural Broadband Task Force and other groups appealing for rural broadband funding to resolve the pervasive lack of high-speed internet access in unprofitable service areas.

Clyburn notes that in his home state, one in ten rural South Carolinians lack access to suitable broadband service, despite years of more modest funding programs. His bill went nowhere in the 2020 session as part of the Democrats’ $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, dubbed the Moving Forward Act. With the election of President Joe Biden and the razor thin Democratic majority control of the U.S. Senate, some form of expanded infrastructure spending bill is likely to emerge in Congress this spring, which will include rural broadband funding.

Like last year’s bill, the 2021 version will likely include:

  • $80 billion in direct subsidy funds to build out high-speed rural internet access to homes and businesses.
  • $5 billion set aside for low interest broadband deployment loans
  • $5 billion for distance learning programs
  • Funding for Wi-Fi service in school buses
  • The creation of the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to monitor, promote, and assist rural communities and those economically disadvantaged in getting affordable high-speed internet service established in their community.
  • Funding for digital equity programs to train those not yet connected in how to use the internet.
  • A requirement that the FCC track and analyze national broadband pricing and ensure price transparency.

Clyburn’s 2020 bill also knocked down state barriers on building and expanding municipal broadband networks.

According to the FCC, 21 million Americans and 10 million school-age children do not have internet access. Low-income households are the least connected in America, and, not surprisingly, rural communities are the least served. What might surprise us all is that the data reveals a 75% correlation between median household income and broadband access In 2019, US Representative Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) created the Rural Broadband Task Force to close the digital divide, with the goal of all Americans having high-speed internet access by 2025. The digital era is to the 21st century what electricity was to the 20th, argues Clyburn. Bridging the digital divide is something we must address if we are going to reset the US economy for all. Featuring Jim Clyburn in conversation with Naomi Nix. (9:21)

Comcast Postpones Data Caps in Northeast Until July

Comcast on Wednesday said it will give its customers a six month reprieve on implementing its 1.2 TB data cap after state legislators in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania’s attorney general complained about the prospect of families paying more for internet access during a pandemic.

“As Pennsylvanians continue to navigate this pandemic, we know millions are relying on the internet for school and work more than ever. This is not the time to change the rules when it comes to internet data usage and increase costs,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “My office negotiated with Comcast to delay the implementation of these overage charges and waive any early termination fees for customers who opt out through December 2021. We also limited the impact of these changes on low-income households.”

The postponement applies to Comcast broadband customers in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

In addition to a delayed introduction of data caps, Comcast has also agreed to:

  • not implement any data caps for low-income customers enrolled in Comcast’s Internet Essentials discount internet program for the rest of 2021;
  • waive any early termination fees for customers planning to switch providers and signed a contract before November 2020;
  • delay any overlimit fees until July, which will first be seen on customers’ August bills;
  • more prominently disclose the fact Comcast has a data cap in its marketing materials.

Pennsylvania consumers concerned about how Comcast’s data threshold may affect them should file a complaint with the Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Comcast also reminded customers the data cap postponement announced today only applies to customers in the northeastern U.S. states noted above.

Charter Spending $5 Billion to Expand Its Rural Footprint; Carolinas, Wisconsin, Ohio, E. Texas Will See Biggest Expansions

Charter Communications will spend almost $5 billion a part of a multiyear, 24-state broadband buildout to deliver high-speed internet service to more than a million unserved homes and businesses.

Approximately $1.2 billion of the cost to serve these low-density, mostly rural communities will come from the federal government’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which is subsidizing some of the expenses associated with providing service in areas deemed unprofitable to serve.

Preparation and planning for Charter’s RDOF Phase 1 broadband buildout has already begun, with an additional 2,000 employees and contractors expected to focus on Charter’s rural expansion efforts in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The biggest expansions in coverage area appear to be in North and South Carolina, North and Eastern Wisconsin, East Texas, Ohio, and Eastern Tennessee.

Charter’s RDOF Expansion Project Map

The network Charter will build in these rural areas will offer Spectrum 1 Gbps high–speed broadband access to all newly served customer locations with starting speeds of 200 Mbps, with no data caps, modem fees, or contracts. Customers will also be able to subscribe to Spectrum TV, home phone and wireless mobile service.

Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge said one of the most important factors governing when service will become available is how well the cable company will be received by the owners of utility poles in the various regions.

“The more cooperation we have with the pole owners and utility companies, the faster we can connect these communities with high-speed internet services,” Rutledge said in a company news release. “We look forward to working with local municipalities, electric cooperatives, and investor-owned utilities to ensure that permits are obtained in a timely, fair and cost-effective fashion.”

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