ALBANY (TNS) — Less than a month after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation mandating $15-a-month broadband service for low and moderate-income New Yorkers, a pair of lawmakers are calling for the state Public Service Commission to have greater oversight over broadband providers.

Two Democrats, Sen. Sean Ryan of Buffalo and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of New York City, are introducing legislation that would give the PSC the ability to regulate broadband internet services, including the Voice Over Internet Protocols, or VOIPs, that also carry telephone service for many internet customers.

”New Yorkers deserve accountability and connectivity when it comes to broadband,” Rozic said. “This legislation is critical in ensuring that the PSC can regulate this infrastructure and deliver for consumers across New York.”

Ryan added, “This bill will ensure the Public Service Commission is authorized to regulate high-speed internet service in New York as a utility and, in doing so, serve as an important step toward delivering truly universal broadband access to our state.”

While the PSC regulates utilities such as electricity and natural gas service, it has no clear authority to regulate internet services or broadband, which provides the kind of bandwidth or capacity for efficient internet transactions including emails. Because of the $15-a-month mandate though, the PSC does have authority to collect mapping data and price information from broadband providers. The proposed measure, though, would go beyond that.

Ryan added that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made broadband even more important for people as they work from home and as youngsters are taking classes online rather than in person.

The measure doesn’t appear to focus on rates but addresses the resiliency and dependability of broadband internet and VIOP service.

For instance, it calls for the PSC to review providers’ plans for backup and restoration of service in the event of outages, and it calls for companies to report on their pricing.

The measure also calls for the PSC to provide to the state Legislature annual reports on their quality and resiliency.

Broadband internet service has long been under scrutiny by lawmakers, especially when it comes to coverage or extending internet cables to remote or hard-to-reach areas.

{p class=”krtText”}New York has allocated money for expanding service in remote areas, but critics have said that some spots remain overlooked due to the cost of stringing cable to reach such customers, including some who live Albany County’s hilltowns south of the city.

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{p class=”krtText”}MEANWHILE, a group of telecommunications trade groups that represent a broad range of internet providers has filed a lawsuit trying to block New York’s landmark new law that would make them provide $15-a-month internet service to low-income customers.

{p class=”krtText”}The new law, which was passed as part of the state budget last month, is part of a broader effort by the Cuomo administration to ensure that everyone in the state — regardless of income or location — can get high-speed internet, which during the pandemic has become more important than ever as students and workers have been forced to work and study from home.

{p class=”krtText”}Last week, the New York State Telecommunications Association, the Wireless Association and other groups like the Rural Broadband Association, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn seeking to block the law on the grounds that it violates federal policy to not interfere with internet rates.

{p class=”krtText”}”Indeed, the broadband service that New York seeks to regulate has never been subject to rate regulation at the federal or state level,” the lawsuit states.

{p class=”krtText”}The lawsuit notes that many companies already have low-cost offerings for qualified low-income customers and that the federal government already provides subsidies to telecom companies to provide these low-cost packages.

{p class=”krtText”}The lawsuit says that the new New York law goes into effect June 15, and that it allows companies to offer a standard speed $15-a-month plan or a $20 plan with faster speeds.

{p class=”krtText”}Spectrum, a major cable TV and internet provider in the state, says through a spokesperson it is not a party to the lawsuit either directly or through any industry association, although it is “evaluating” the suit as well as the new law.

{p class=”krtText”}Spectrum has an existing $14.99 internet service offer for low-income customers that has been in place for several years that likely already complies with the new law.

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{p class=”krtText”}© 2021 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) Visit the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) at www.timesunion.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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