Tuesday, August 7, 2018

State of New York revokes Spectrum's right to operate in the state

In a victory for rural broadband, the State of New York has revoked the right of Spectrum, the second largest internet provider in the country, to operate in the state because of its failure to expand access to rural communities. The agreement to provide access to rural communities was a condition under which New York allowed Charter Communications to acquire Time Warner Cable in January 2016. According to the New York Public Service Commission, Spectrum's parent company Charter Communications has reneged on this agreement and provided suitable ground for the Commission to revoke their acceptance of that merger, effectively ending the ability of Spectrum to operate in the state.

As originally reported back in April by the Lockport Union Sun and Journal in Niagara County, NY, Charter Communications has repeatedly failed to make adequate progress towards meeting the goals set forth in their agreement with the state. In September 2017, Charter agreed to a $13 million settlement with the state after having failed to reach half its target within the first year of the agreement. Despite the hefty settlement, their inability to comply continued. In June, they were fined an additional $2 million.

As I covered back in February, New York seems to take rural broadband seriously. Under Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state has invested billions into its expansion through the New NY Broadband program. The Governor's office claims to have connected 98% of New Yorkers to broadband internet and had planned to have 100% connected by the end of 2018. However, the governor will allow companies who received funding in Phase III, which launched in January, to apply for a waiver of the deadline and receive funding for an additional year.

Achieving universal coverages has not been without difficulty. In some of the most remote stretches of New York, many rural residents find themselves being offered discounted satellite internet, a solution that many find inadequate. HughesNet, a large satellite internet provider, has been provided with subsidies that will allow it to offer subsidized satellite internet to rural residents of Upstate New York. Many have claimed that they have already had access to HughesNet and the ability to access it at a reduced rate does not represent the expansion of a new service into their communities and that the relative unreliability of satellite internet is problematic. As Matt Stern from Royalton, NY in Niagara County in Western New York said to the Lockport Union-Sun and Journal, "I still wouldn't buy it  ... it's just not real internet." This sentiment was echoed by Pat Buckley of Ellenburg, NY in Clinton County in Northeastern New York who said to the Press-Republican, “[w]e’re frustrated that we’re not being treated the same[.]”

I applaud the State of New York for holding Charter Communications accountable to the terms of the agreement that they signed. However, I also share the concerns of the rural New Yorkers who are concerned about the viability of satellite internet as a long term broadband solution. I do not feel that it would be fair to some of the most remote New Yorkers to have to settle for substandard internet while the state claims to have 100% broadband connectivity. As we near the end of the year and the original deadline for 100% broadband connectivity across the State of New York, I will be keeping an eye on this.

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