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Internet could be allowed use for temporary public assistance programs

A state lawmaker wants to add internet to the list of services that can be covered by temporary public assistance benefits.

The proposal by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, came the same day a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that New York cannot require internet providers to offer $15 a month broadband service for low-income customers. That requirement was to have started June 15.

Rosenthal proposes adding home internet service to shelter, home heating fuel, meals for those unable to cook at home as items that can be paid for with public assistance.

“In the 21st century, internet is no longer a luxury, it has become a necessity for individuals to pay bills, apply for work, to complete schoolwork and much more. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as public libraries were closed, the necessity of home internet access became even more evident,” Rosenthal wrote in her legislative justification. “However, the cost of internet service can is often prohibitive for low-income New Yorkers. Individuals receiving temporary assistance may be eligible for monthly grants to help cover the costs of shelter, fuel for heating and meal costs, however internet service costs are not covered. This legislation will help families in need of assistance receive internet access by making it a covered temporary assistance expense.”

U.S. District Court Senior District Judge Denis R. Hurley of the Eastern District of New York said in a preliminary injunction last week that the state’s low-income broadband requirement would have caused internet providers to suffer irreparable injury.

According to the lawsuit filing, about 35% of households in the state would qualify for the $15 service. Three of the internet companies told the court the law would reduce annual net income by at least $1 million each.

“While a telecommunications giant like Verizon may be able to absorb such a loss, others may not,” the judge wrote. “The Champlain Telephone Company, for example, ‘estimates that nearly half of its existing broadband customers will quality for discounted rates,’ with each customer ‘causing a monetary loss.'”

A federal Emergency Broadband Benefit program pays $50 a month toward the cost of internet service for low-income households or those that have experienced economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. That program signed up 2.3 million households in its first three weeks, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

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