Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget 2016 agenda swelled by another $500 million on Friday, as the governor announced a proposal to improve high-speed Internet access across New York.
The 10th initiative unveiled in Cuomo’s weeklong spending spree would “dramatically improve broadband availability for millions of New Yorkers and lead to more than $1 billion in direct investments and consumer benefits,” the governor said in a statement.
Actually, the $1 billion in direct investments is already in line to happen, following Friday’s vote by the New York State Public Service Commission to approve the proposed merger of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications.
But to help that corporate alliance meet capacity requirements included in the PSC approval, Cuomo is proposing the New NY Broadband Program, which would invest $500 million in broadband tech – an estimate based on input from providers, elected officials, consumers and others who responded to a 2015 Request For Proposals posted by the governor’s office.
How the governor will pay for the broadband initiative remains to be seen, as does the source of the more than $52 billion in expenditures and tax cuts he championed during the week, including $22 billion in statewide roadwork, $8 billion in improvements for the Long Island Rail Road and the rest of the MTA, $7 billion for upstate infrastructure improvements, $4 billion for the ongoing LaGuardia Airport makeover and another billion or so for Long Island infrastructure upgrades.
And don’t forget $3.9 billion to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, $3.8 billion in small-business tax cuts, a billion dedicated to sprucing up the New York State Thruway system, minimum-salary raises (to $15 per hour) for 28,000 SUNY employees and $5 million to study a tunnel under the Long Island Sound.
(There’s more, but you get the idea.)
While most of the proposals are expected to fall short of winning legislative approval, the broadband initiative may resonate with lawmakers. Large swaths of the state suffer slow connection speeds – Time Warner’s current best north of New York City is 50 Mpbs – and some 145,000 residential and commercial customers have no broadband access.
“Broadband is crucial to driving growth, improving our education system and connecting New Yorkers to the 21st century global economy,” Cuomo said in his announcement. “Access to high-speed Internet shouldn’t be limited by your ZIP code.”
The state’s $500 million solicitation – a “historic investment,” as Cuomo called it – invites private-sector partners to join the New NY Broadband Program, which will focus primarily on those unserved and underserved areas north of the City. The goal, according to the governor’s office, is to help the Time Warner Cable/Charter Communications alliance hit that 100 Mbps target by the end of 2018.
The merger had to undergo PSC review because of a state law, signed by Cuomo in 2014, requiring the parties in proposed cable-company mergers to demonstrate the merger is in the public’s best interest. The projected $1 billion in investments is based on the merger requirements set by the commission, including an estimated $305 million to hit 300 Mbps statewide and some $355 million for line extensions bringing broadband service to those 145,000 unserved customers.
Public Service Commission Chairwoman Audrey Zibelman called the commission’s conditional approval of the Time Warner Cable/Charter Communications merger “a game-changer in the telecommunications arena.”
“The rapid evolution of technology spurred by the Internet has profoundly changed what we need from our cable and telecommunication providers,” Zibelman said in a statement. “Technological convergence has occurred and the very essence of a world-class communications infrastructure in this state depends upon the strength of its broadband networks.”
While it was lumped in with another $50 billion in apparently grasp-exceeding proposed expenditures – and counting, as Cuomo has promised even more proposals for this week’s State of the State address – Empire State Development President and CEO Howard Zemsky agreed the New NY Broadband Program is among the more important, particularly as it pertains to removing high-speed Internet access barriers for commercial customers.
“An investment in broadband is an investment in every New Yorker,” Zemsky said.