U.S. broadband providers sue New York for forcing them to offer affordable internet

Earlier this month, the state of New York passed a law that would require broadband providers to offer affordable broadband internet for low-income families. The law, which takes effect in the state from the middle of June 2021, would mean that broadband service would be required to be available from discounted rates from USD 15 (~RM61) per month in New York for low-income households.

This would benefit approximately 7 million users across 2.7 million households, while U.S. Congress has also set up a USD 3.2 million (~RM13.1 million) subsidy programme for low-income American households to access broadband internet during the pandemic—set for launch this month.

However, a coalition of broadband associations—representing AT&T, Verizon, and other telecoms—have brought a legal suit against the state of New York for the law. The case centres around the providers’ claim that the state does not have the authority to pass the law, arguing that the issue should fall under the purview of federal legislation instead.

As reported by Axios, the coalition argues:

“While well-intended, this bill is preempted by federal law and ignores the $50 monthly broadband discount recently enacted by Congress, as well as the many unprecedented commitments, donations and accommodations that broadband providers have made for low-income consumers since the pandemic began.” 

However, the Governor of New York has responded in a bullish manner, calling on the coalition to “bring it on”. Gov. Andrew Cuomo referred to the lawsuit as a “transparent attempt by billion-dollar corporations putting profit”, rather than focusing on “creating a more fair and just society”.

“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, I say bring it on.”

On the more technical, legal side of things, the lawsuit argues that state law contradicts a Federal Communications Commission ruling back in 2018 that stated that broadband regulation would be contrary to the public interest. Broadband service, as per the ruling, is now classified as an information service, which means that it can not be regulated in the same way that common-carriers are.

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Meanwhile, the coalitions also argue that affordable broadband is already available to low-income households, although this is not mandatory or regulated by the authorities.

To read the full lawsuit, click here.

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