The issue of broadband access is too important to too many New Yorkers, particularly senior citizens and those in rural areas, for the state to kick the problem down the road another year.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had a chance to move forward in closing the state’s broadband gap by signing the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act.
The bill (A6679/S8805), which we editorialized in favor of last year, would have required the state Public Service Commission to study the availability, affordability and reliability of high-speed internet and broadband access, submit a report, hold regional public hearings, and work with providers to prioritize access in poor and underserved areas.
Such a study would have provided more accurate information than is currently available about where the state still needs broadband access and provide an impetus for companies and the state to expand access to those areas.
The bill passed almost unanimously in both houses of the Legislature last year, and Gov. Cuomo had until the end of January to sign it.
But instead, he decided not to, allowing the bill to die unsigned, resulting in a rare pocket veto.
The governor’s office said he agreed in principle with the bill, but balked at the $3 million cost. Instead, the governor’s office will make a similar proposal and make it as part of the upcoming state budget negotiations.
It’s difficult to understand the governor’s rationale for the veto, particularly because of the crucial need for the state to address the issue as soon as possible.
The large gaps in the availability of broadband coverage have been exposed and exacerbated by the covid crisis, as many more residents required reliable high-speed service as they worked from home and as school children were forced to learn remotely.
Making the study an element of the new budget process potentially delays its implementation, and therefore any action.
The governor may even have put any action on it in jeopardy, since including it in the budget process makes it a potential negotiating tool that could end up being written out of the final budget.
As for the cost, no one should balk at the $3 million price tag of such a plan, given that that’s hardly an unusually high price to pay for work of this magnitude and given the urgency with which the issue needs to be addressed.
The governor’s office says Cuomo will come up with a replacement plan in the very near future.
Frankly, he could have saved himself and the Legislature the time and trouble by simply signing the bill he had before him.
We can only hope that whatever he comes up with meets with the Legislature’s quick approval — and that it’s not held up in budget talks or even sacrificed completely — so it can be implemented as soon as possible.
If you’re one of those waiting for reliable, high-speed broadband service, any unnecessary delays are unacceptable.