New York Budget Passes Without Anti-Municipal Broadband Language

Community Broadband

Advocates said proposed language from the state assembly would have hindered public broadband deployment.

Jake Neenan New York Budget Passes Without Anti-Municipal Broadband Language Photo of the New York State Capitol by Johannes Thiel used with permission

April 18, 2024 – The New York State Assembly passed on Thursday a budget bill without language that would have hindered the deployment of publicly owned broadband networks, advocates say.

The proposed amendment would have altered the state’s ConnectAll Municipal Infrastructure Program, which makes nearly $230 million available for local governments and nonprofits to expand broadband infrastructure.

The change would have limited funds from the program to “unserved and underserved locations only,” meaning areas that broadband coverage data shows have access to internet speeds below 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload. With that language stricken, municipalities will have more leeway to decide where to build networks funded by the program.

“I applaud the New York State Legislature for standing up to backroom attempts by incumbent cable lobbyists to undermine community broadband,” American Association for Public Broadband Executive Director Gigi Sohn said in a statement.

The public broadband advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance first flagged the change as a potential problem in a March report that said communities in which incumbent coverage had been over reported or that wanted to invest in faster internet – the Municipal Infrastructure Program requires symmetric speeds of 100 Mbps – would be out of luck with the proposed restriction. 

Trojan Horse To Cripple Muni Broadband in New York Slipped Into State Assembly Budget Proposal | Welcome to Community Networks

Language added to a New York State budget bill is threatening to undermine a municipal broadband grant program established by Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office earlier this year. Buried near the bottom of the Assembly budget proposal is a Trojan horse legislative sources say is being pushed by lobbyists representing Charter Spectrum, the regional cable monopoly and 2nd largest cable company in the U.S. that was nearly kicked out of New York by state officials in 2018 for atrocious service.

That report also said lobbyists for Charter Spectrum, the major cable broadband provider, pushed for the Assembly’s change. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

New York is weeks behind deadline in passing its budget, and the measure will still need to get Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature. Politico reported that a cyber attack yesterday took legislature computers offline and further complicated matters.

Money for the Municipal Infrastructure Program comes from the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund, a $10-billion pool set up by the American Rescue Plan Act as a response to the Covid pandemic. About $9 billion of that has been awarded to states so far.

The first application window for grants under New York’s program closed March 8, and the state is planning to announce winners this month. Local governments and co-ops can still apply for funding in the second window until tomorrow, April 19. After that, private entities like for-profit ISPs can apply for remaining funds until June 7.