At the start of the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo used former Google CEO Eric Schmidt to lead New York into the digital age.
A year later, Cuomo and Schmidt unveiled the first major change in government policy: a new law signed Friday to expand Internet access for low-income New Yorkers.
Cuomo accepted the recommendation of the Reform Commission from Schmidt, Reimagine New York, and signed a bill requiring ISPs like Verizon to offer low-income families basic broadband access for no more than $ 15 a month. According to Cuomo, this is the first cap type in the nation. High-speed plans are capped at $ 20 per month.
About 7 million New Yorkers who currently qualify for government assistance now have access to cheaper internet – a high-speed plan typically averages more than $ 50 a month, Cuomo said – making it easier for them to take online classes and communicating with them family and work from home. Americans who lack broadband access are disproportionately low-income and colorful.
"The Internet is no longer optional," said Schmidt on Friday alongside Cuomo. "It's important to education. Think of the generation that we could create who aren't learning because we haven't given them the right access – and they are the ones who are most at risk and who need it most. "
The law is the most important achievement of the commission led by Schmidt to date. The former Google CEO said from the start that the group would have three priorities: expanding broadband access, expanding further functions for virtual medical appointments and improving remote learning.
Schmidt is a billionaire philanthropist who divides his time between technical issues like artificial intelligence, political issues like democratic campaigns, and the intersection of those technical and political interests – ways to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley's technical talent and the American military, for example.
Some New York progressives were upset when Schmidt – along with another great tech philanthropist, Bill Gates – was chosen to direct the coronavirus recovery in New York for fear it would expand the influence of the private sector. Schmidt, a longtime political ally of Cuomo, praised the New York governor's "exceptional" coronavirus leadership, who has handled multiple crises, including an FBI investigation into whether he covered up the total number of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes. Cuomo also faces allegations of sexual harassment.
In addition to the new state law, Schmidt's philanthropic group Schmidt Futures is also helping to finance Internet access for the next school year for up to 50,000 New York families who cannot afford the reduced monthly price of USD 15. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers "apparently had no internet access at all," said Schmidt.
Schmidt portrayed the commission as the epitome of the best in philanthropy and how it can work with the public sector in a crisis.
"This is the time when New York is doing its best – a combination of private actors and the public doing what is right for the benefit of all citizens," said Schmidt. "Governor, send us more challenges."