The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to return $170 million to New York state to expand broadband deployment in underserved areas.
Money from the Connect America Fund was offered to several broadband companies in New York state, but one company did not accept the money it was allocated. The FCC wanted to bid the unused money nationally, according to the New York State Broadband Program Office.
After nearly one year of persuasion from New York lawmakers, the FCC instead decided to return the unused money to New York and is partnering with the state, which will give an additional $200 million in funding and private investment for closing the digital divide. This decision is the first action taken under new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
“Broadband is critical to economic opportunity and job creation,” Pai in a statement. “This is a first step of many to fulfill my promise to empower Americans with online opportunities, no matter who they are and no matter where they live.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., led the effort to lobby the FCC to return the fund to the state.
“I was very clear with the FCC that this $170 million belongs strictly to New York and should be kept here,” said Schumer. “The Federal government’s job should be to invest not divest in upstate New York’s Internet access.”
The fund will be put up for bid by the state so that broadband companies can use the money to expand Internet access and infrastructure, according to Schumer.
“As long as I’m senator, I will never let New Yorkers’ access to broadband suffer just because one carrier chose not to invest in New York,” Schumer said.
The $170 million comes from phase two of the Connect America Fund, which was formerly the Universal Service Fund. The fund was orchestrated on the belief that U.S. residents need high-speed Internet access to function socially and economically.
“Reliable, fast Internet access should not be a luxury, it’s a necessity in the 21st century economy,” said Gillibrand. “Lack of affordable broadband service cuts off families and businesses from critical services. These Federal funds combined with additional state funds will give our rural communities in upstate New York greater access to the resources they need to get online and stay competitive in our digital economy, and I was proud to fight for this investment.”
The New York Broadband Program’s goal is to bring access to speeds of 100 Mbps for all New Yorkers with 25 Mbps acceptable in the most remote and rural areas. In December 2015, there were about 239,177 households in upstate New York that didn’t have access to 25 Mbps service, according to the state. Verizon also declined funding to 78,245 households in upstate New York, according to the FCC.
“I am gratified that the FCC has decided to heed our call and put this funding to work here in New York where it belongs. Now more than ever, Internet access is a vital piece of the infrastructure that connects New Yorkers with the world,” said Tonko. “Whether that means bringing learning opportunities to the fingertips of our students, opening the doors of global commerce to our small businesses, or just getting news and weather updates before workers head in for the day, broadband access has become an important part of our lives.”