On May 5, 2016, I filed a lawsuit, directly challenging the Governor's Broadband Program Office plans to divert $500 million that the legislature intended to use for the expansion of broadband access in New York State. This lawsuit is pending in New York State Supreme Court, Albany County.
The fight for broadband access in
New York State.
In New York, as in many states, many communities, especially in rural areas, lack a reasonable Internet connection. This creates a tremendous hardship and effectively results in the disconnection of hundreds of thousands of citizens from fully participating in contemporary society. Schools where students do not have access to the Internet are at a significant disadvantage. Businesses, especially businesses that depend on communications, cannot compete. Ordinary citizens are severely inconvenienced, just as individuals without electricity or telephone service suffered severe hardship in the first half of the 20th century.
In New York State, more than 1 million
citizens do not have adequate broadband access. I know this
problem well: my office is located in a rural part of Albany
County where there is no reliable internet provider.
Some states are trying to address this problem in a reasonable
manner. However, in New York, our state government wants to
subsidize large broadband providers and in promoting the
Governor's political and personal agenda, and has little
interest in providing broadband in unserved communities.
In 2015, the New York State Legislature appropriated
$500 million To improve broadband access in communities that
do not have it. However, even though Governor
Cuomo publicly announced a " Broadband for all"
campaign, his Broadband Program Office is attempting to ensure
that little, if any, of that money will be used for its
intended purpose. The plans of the Broadband Program Office,
if implemented, will result in providing unneeded
subsidies to broadband rich communities, by upgrading their
services to ever faster speeds,while not providing any relief
to the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who do not have
broadband access at a speed of even 25 MB per second..
The Governor's Broadband Program
The Governor's Broadband Program Office
is responsible for allocating the monies appropriated by the
Legislature for broadband expansion. Last fall, I submitted comments
to the Governor's Broadband Program Office in response
to a Request for Information. I criticized the Office's
intention to impose cost-effectiveness criteria which would
effectively exclude projects that would provide
broadband service in unserved rural areas. After the Broadband
Program Office denied my Freedom
of Information Law request for access to the other
public comments that were filed , I successfully litigated an
78 (mandamus) proceeding and obtained access to all of
the other public comments that were filed. I have also filed testimony
before two New York State Assembly Committees explaining
why the Broadband Program Office is violating the Legislative
mandate and urging that the Legislature take appropriate
action. I am also working to organize a coalition of
communities and other interested parties to fight for a
meaningful broadband access policy in New York state.
The Broadband Program Office accepted
proposals for projects to provide broadband access until April
15, 2016, pursuant to Guidelines that were adopted
on January 8, 2016. I believe that these Guidelines are
illegal, because the BPO exceeded its authority by adopting
rules that diverted monies away from the Legislature's
intended purpose of expanding broadband access for New
Yorkers who lack it. I have brought a lawsuit
(a combined citizen-taxpayer action and Article 78
proceeding), on behalf of an environmental organization, the
Alliance for Environmental Renewal, and several individuals,
challenging these Guidelines and seeking to enjoin the
misappropriation of state funds.
The Public Service Commission
One of the largest broadband providers in New York State is Time Warner Corporation. The Public Service Commission recently approved Time Warner's proposed merger with Charter Communications, but conditioned its approval upon Time Warner's agreement to provide service, including broadband and cable, to 145,000 presently unserved housing units in municipalities where it has a franchise to operate. Assuming that the merger receives final approval from the federal government, Time Warner will be required to connect these 145,000 housing units over a four-year period. I am presently working to ensure that Time Warner keeps its commitments. Time Warner filed a list of unserved units, by municipality throughout the state, with the Public Service Commission, but is attempting to keep this information secret because it is allegedly a confidential trade secret. I have filed a Freedom of Information Law request to obtain this information and am prepared to litigate the issue, if necessary. I am also considering the possibility of seeking to intervene in the administrative process before the Public Service Commission, perhaps on behalf of a municipality, perhaps on behalf of an environmental organization, to advocate for the enforcement of the merger conditions.