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Another Voice: Telecoms providing internet service must be held to account

By Sean Ryan

When Congress deregulated the telecom and cable industries over two decades ago, the result was supposed to be increased competition, better service and lower prices for consumers. But, unfortunately, for millions of New Yorkers it hasn’t worked out that way.

It’s true that deregulation spurred Verizon to develop Fios, as it branched out of telephone service to deliver high-speed internet and cable TV. And when Fios was first launched, New Yorkers were thrilled. Finally, we were going to get reliable, fast internet throughout the state and a real competitive alternative to the cable monopoly. But while Fios is available to customers in most of downstate, much of upstate has been left behind.

Similarly, when Charter bought Time Warner Cable in 2016, we were promised a major expansion of high-speed internet. But until the Public Service Commission intervened and threatened to revoke Charter’s license, progress was slow. Now Charter is finally being forced to keep its promises.

Other companies, like Altice, are raising prices. This is easier to do, of course, when there is only one option for consumers to turn to.

More than half of all Americans are reportedly offered only one choice for high-speed broadband, leaving millions with no alternative option, and many with no access at all. That is the predicament of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers as well.

That’s why I have proposed a bill in Albany, A6679, that would require the Public Service Commission to study which communities are underserved, and then direct telecommunications companies, which are public utilities in New York State, to serve the unmet need.

While Verizon has built, or is in the process of building, its high-speed Fios network in many affluent suburbs and towns across New York, it has yet to build Fios in upstate New York’s biggest cities, including most of Buffalo. Consumers in these upstate areas are condemned to a cable monopoly.

In 2019, fast, reliable internet is how we pay our bills, how our kids do their homework, where we get our news, and what we rely on for so many other basic aspects of daily life. Given that, full participation in today’s society requires access to both voice and high-speed internet service.

These modern necessities are also critical for economic development and job creation, and for making improvements in health care, education and public safety. If telecommunications companies actually did what they said they would, more New Yorkers would have jobs installing and monitoring the high-speed internet.

It’s time we finally ensure that every New Yorker has a real choice of high-quality, high-speed internet service providers.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, represents the 149th District.

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