FILE - NY broadband internet 5-7-2020

Telecommunications workers take a break May 7, 2020 at a construction site in New York City.

(The Center Square) – A pair of New York lawmakers want to see the state have greater regulatory authority over the broadband internet network.

State Sen. Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, D-Queens, announced this week they will file The New York Broadband Resiliency, Public Safety and Quality Act, which would let the state’s Public Service Commission treat broadband providers like other utilities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified our reliance on internet access in our daily lives,” Ryan said in a statement. “During the country’s recovery from the pandemic, people without reliable access to high-speed internet have suffered disproportionately.”

Not only would the bill give the PSC authority over broadband internet, but it also would give it power to regulate voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phone operators.

That’s one of the reasons why Consumer Reports supports the legislation.

“Over the last 25 years, there has been a huge migration to internet-based telephone service, which consumers rely on to keep in touch with friends and family, and to make calls to first responders during medical and weather emergencies,” said Chuck Bell, Consumer Reports programs director, in a statement. “For all these reasons, it is critical that the New York State Public Service Commission has the authority it needs to provide effective oversight over broadband and VoIP telephone service.”

The bill is the latest maneuver by lawmakers and state officials to exercise control over the broadband carriers. Last month, the Legislature approved a budget that requires carriers to offer broadband access to low-income households for $15 a month.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators said the initiative was to ensure all New Yorkers had access to what they called an essential service.

Last Friday, two weeks after Cuomo officially signed it into law, a consortium of telecommunications providers filed a federal lawsuit against the state seeking to have the rate requirement tossed out, claiming the state does not have the authority.

If the providers’ lawsuit is successful, it could potentially derail Ryan and Rozic’s legislation.

“More than a century ago, Congress enacted legislation that occupied the field of interstate communications service and, thereby, precluded states from directly regulating those services,” the complaint states.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for the New York State Telecommunications Association, CTIA – The Wireless Association, USTelecom – The Broadband Association and NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, four of the plaintiffs in the suit, write to U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley asking for pretrial conference to take place for the June 15 enactment date on New York’s $15 broadband initiative.

“Plaintiffs intend to move for a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of the Rate Regulation and to preserve the status quo, which includes a new federal program, the Emergency Broadband Benefit,” wrote Andrew Goldsmith.

The new federal program, created as part of the $2.3 trillion COVID-19 relief and omnibus spending bill passed in December, was created to help households who cannot afford internet access as a result of the pandemic. It provides qualifying families with up to a $50 monthly discount. Those living on tribal land may receive up to $75 a month.