COVID has illustrated just how critical internet service is to American life. This new awareness has prompted an even greater push to regulate the internet in New York like a utility, similar to phone or electricity service.

Assemblymember Nily Rozic (D-Queens) and Senator Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo) have proposed a bill to authorize the Public Service Commission (PSC) to oversee broadband, as well as “Voice over Internet Protocol,” or VoIP. The legislation is called the “New York Broadband Resilience, Public Safety and Quality Act.” 

Section 2 of the bill “finds and declares that access to high-speed broadband service is a necessity and essential to participation in the economy, education and civic life."

Section 3 of the bill amends the public service law by adding Article 12, which authorizes the Public Service Commission to “exercise oversight regarding broadband and VoIP service,” including the reporting of pricing data. 

Rozic discussed why she thinks the legislation is necessary. 

“I think that it’s a simple premise; it keeps it in line with any other utility,” Rozic explained. “Broadband service is just like anything else. It is critical for all of us getting back to business.”

The bill is also supported by several consumer groups, including the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), AARP and Consumer Reports. 

"If there was any doubt, the pandemic made it crystal clear that access to affordable, reliable broadband is essential for New Yorkers,” NYPIRG’s General Counsel Russ Haven told Capital Tonight

“Broadband has provided children's classrooms, college lectures, access to unemployment benefits, vaccine sign ups and allowed us to virtually, safely attend joyful and solemn family occasions, like birthdays and memorial services. This legislation recognizes a 21st century reality: Broadband access is as important as phone and electric service and the state needs full oversight authority over it,” Haven continued.

The bill (S5771/A 7412) is currently in the Senate Energy & Telecommunications Committee, and the Assembly Corporations, Authorities & Commissions Committee.

There is some pushback among broadband providers including Charter Communications, the parent company of Spectrum News 1, which told Capital Tonight its position is that “a uniform, national framework” best serves the interests of consumers.

Here is the full statement provided by Charter Communications to Capital Tonight:

“Spectrum’s investment and innovation have brought New Yorkers expanded broadband access, speed and affordability.

For interstate services like broadband, customers are best served by a uniform, national framework. The current regulatory regime has protected consumers while creating an environment that allowed Spectrum to introduce gigabit service with starting speeds of at least 100 Mbps and a low-cost broadband option across our entire New York service area — in urban, suburban and rural areas from Brooklyn to Buffalo — and extend our broadband network to reach an additional 131,000 homes and small businesses in 2020 alone.”

Capital Tonight also reached out to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). Its statement is below. 

Statement from Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) Senior Vice President of External and State Affairs, Jamie Hastings:

"Wireless competition has delivered innovation, investment and massive consumer benefits to New York wireless consumers, and the COVID-19 pandemic underscored how well this framework performed as so many Americans shifted work, school, medical care and entertainment to their wireless devices. At a time when expanding connectivity and economic growth is paramount for communities across the state, S.5117 and A.7412 would impose new restrictions that would only delay network expansions and upgrades. The wireless industry will continue to fight for consumers and further wireless deployment to keep New Yorkers connected."