Governor seeks low-cost broadband, aid for arts for state to bounce back post-COVID

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ALBANY — New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is calling on broadband internet providers to offer service for $15 a month to low-income households and for establishing a fund to help families who can’t afford that.

In what he described the second installment of his annual state-of-the-state address on Tuesday, Cuomo also announced a plan to support the arts industry with a series of events at public facilities including upstate, and for using expanded rapid-test procedures at arts, entertainment and sporting events and in work places.

With vaccines against COVID-19 likely not reaching critical mass until as late as September, the state cannot rely only on inoculations or risk the further decline of key parts of the economy, including office work, theater, and restaurants, Cuomo said in his address, given via live online streaming from Albany.

“We must take control of our destiny,” Cuomo said, and reopen “smartly and safely.”

Some 7,000 fans were tested by the state Department of Health before Saturday’s NFL playoff game in suburban Buffalo in a way that could be duplicated at other events, Cuomo said. The screening was done with tests whose results are available in as little as 15 minutes, in a drive-through setting that took about five minutes per car, Cuomo said. The idea is to open hundreds of pop-up testing sites to test in the hours before a venue or business opens.

Some major operators of office buildings have already agreed to offer testing to tenants on a regularly scheduled basis, Cuomo said.

“Why can’t we use rapid testing to reopen theaters in orange zones, theaters, offices — there are so many options.”

Broadway theaters, a major draw for New York City tourism and spin-off sectors such as restaurants and hotels, have been dark since March and need help if they are to survive, Cuomo said.

Similarly, the governor announced state involvement in performances and events starting Feb. 4 featuring well-known performers and regional arts organizations. He mentioned comedians Amy Schumer and Chris Rock, opera singer Renee Fleming, jazz composer and band leader Wynton Marsalis and actor Hugh Jackman, as well as New York City-based and upstate music, dance and theater groups. Performances will be at state parks and other state properties adapted to promote social distancing, with state help in organizing and marketing.

As for broadband internet, Cuomo said the COVID pandemic has shown how vital access to high-speed service is for business, telemedicine and particularly education. Most state residents have access to broadband but the average price is $50 a month, with subsidies not readily accessible. The $15 low-income service would have providers “recognize their public responsibility,” and a fund will be established for families who cannot afford the $15 monthly rate in partnership with former Google executive Eric Schmidt and philanthropies, Cuomo said.

“Without broadband, telemedicine is not an option. Without broadband, you can’t apply for most jobs. The public education system that was supposed to be the great equalizer becomes the great divider.”

Cuomo also announced a commission led by the New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service to examine ways to adapt to a post-COVID economy.

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