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 Office

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 Article 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.