Anti Muni Broadband Budget Amendment Gets Nixed in New York

New York State Seal

Advocates for better Internet access are breathing a sigh of relief in New York as the State Assembly passed a budget bill yesterday that did not include an amendment that would have undermined the state’s municipal broadband grant program.

As we reported last month, buried in language near the bottom of the Assembly budget proposal was a Trojan horse legislative sources said was being pushed by lobbyists representing Charter Spectrum.

The amendment, which did not survive the budget reconciliation process, proposed to limit Municipal Infrastructure Program grants to projects that targeted “unserved and underserved locations only” – a restriction that would have made municipal broadband projects in the state less likely to become financially viable.

New York State Capitol Empire State Plaza

Created as part of New York’s billion dollar ConnectALL Initiative, the MIP is specifically designed to support municipal broadband projects. Such projects are routinely targeted by lobbyists for the big monopoly providers intent on preventing any competition to their often spotty, high-cost service offerings.

New York State Assembly Member Anna Kelles – whose district includes one of the towns (Dryden) that benefited from a previous pilot program – told ILSR that the failed amendment would have “dismantle(d) current state efforts to build a sustainable business model for municipal broadband in New York State.”

Working with New York State Sen. Rachel May, Kelles said the intent of the MIP grant program was to “guarantee that local governments have the option to offer high-speed Internet to their constituencies” because “in places that have deployed a municipal broadband model, prices across the board decrease while service levels increase.”

With the proposed amendment not making the cut, Gigi Sohn, Executive Director of the American Association for Public Broadband (AAPB), hailed it as “a victory for every community and every resident of New York State.”

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

“We congratulate Senator Rachel May, Assemblymember Dr. Anna R. Kelles, Governor Hochul and other allies of public broadband in the state legislature and the Administration for working to defeat this language. They recognize that communities should be free to choose what kind of broadband network best serves their residents and that public networks can provide the kind of universal service at affordable prices that incumbents often do not.”

Limiting subsidies to unserved and underserved areas via the MIP would have prevented municipal networks from getting started in areas that have numerous locations that are unserved or underserved but are not correctly listed as such in the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection. That collection is notoriously inaccurate, in part due to lobbying from the big monopolies over the years to stop the federal government or states from collecting accurate, useful data.

Still, even with the defeat of the proposed budget amendment in New York, the national assault on competition being pushed by the nation’s largest telco and cable companies isn’t new and isn’t going away.

Or as Sohn puts it: “While we were successful in beating back this recent attack, we have little doubt that those same cable lobbyists with their enormous resources will try again next year. And AAPB and its members will be there to defend and preserve the freedom of every community to control its broadband future.” 

Earlier this week, CBN Director Christopher Mitchell and CBN Associate Director for Communications Sean Gonsalves dissected the disinformation campaigns about municipal broadband in general and the attacks in New York in particular on the most recent episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. You can listen to that podcast below:

Inline image of New York State Capitol and Empire State Plaza courtesy of Darren McGee/New York State Governor’s Office