A federal judge issued a temporary injunction Friday on a New York State law slated to take effect next week that would force internet service providers to provide affordable high-speed internet access to low-income state residents.
Under the law, companies can charge low-income residents slightly more, but no more than $20, for faster broadband with download speeds of at least 200 megabits-per-second.
The governor’s office said the law would apply to about 7 million New Yorkers in 2.7 million households, according to a report from Courthouse News Service. The discounted rates would apply to New Yorkers who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, Medicaid, and supplemental nutrition program (SNAP) benefits.
But New York’s Eastern District Judge Dennis R. Hurley on Friday sided with a group of telecom companies that sued to block the law from taking effect.
He agreed that, if enacted, the law could cause “irreparable harm” and “unrecoverable losses” to the telecom companies, particularly smaller ones because they’d face penalties if they didn’t meet requirements set by the law or because they’d lose revenue by charging customers less, as The Verge reported.
One company, Empire Communications, argued it would have to turn down a federal grant to expand its service if the law went into effect because it “could not afford to invest in this buildout because a large percentage of its potential customers would be eligible for the discounted monthly rates,” as Courthouse News Service reported.
“While a telecommunications giant like Verizon may be able to absorb such a loss, others may not,” Hurley wrote in his decision to issue the injunction.
In his decision, Hurley also agreed with the telecom companies that the New York law interferes with the work of the Federal Communications Commission because it “regulates within the field of interstate communications.”
The office of Gov. Cuomo said it planned to push forward on the legislation.
“We always knew big telecom would pull out all the stops to protect their profits at the expense of the New Yorkers who need access to this vital utility the most,” said Rich Azzopardi, a spokesperson for Cuomo, in a statement to Courthouse News. “We are going to continue to fight for them.”
President Joe Biden has offered to cut down the cost of his infrastructure plan – the American Jobs Plan – from $2.25 trillion to $1.7 trillion, presenting a counteroffer to Republicans on Friday.
The offer did not address the $1.7 trillion American Families Plan, which is largely focused on care-economy measures, so the initial $4.1 trillion combination of packages would now come to about $3.2 trillion.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that officials including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo offered up the reduced package.
“In our view, this is the art of seeking common ground,” Psaki said.
Psaki said that proposed funding for broadband was reduced to match that of Republicans, and proposed funding for roads, bridges, and major projects was also reduced to be more in line with senators’ proposals. Investments in research and development, supply chains, manufacturing, and small businesses will be shifted into different legislative pushes.
But the White House said it would continue to push for funding for critical transportation infrastructure, especially railways.
Psaki also said the White House planned to reiterate the president’s unwillingness to raise taxes on Americans making under $400,000, such as through a gas tax and user fees.
“He believes that the extraordinarily wealthy, that companies – many of whom have not paid taxes in recent years – can afford a modest increase to pay for middle-class jobs,” Psaki said.
Republicans had previously offered a $568 billion counteroffer to the White House, well below the $2.25 trillion originally proposed and still substantially lower than the new counteroffer. It would preserve Trump-era tax cuts, which are directly countered in Biden’s proposed funding.
After the GOP group met with Biden last week to discuss its $568 billion counterproposal, Biden gave them a Tuesday deadline to bring him a new plan to negotiate, but that never happened.
Instead, the group met with Buttigieg and Raimondo, and a new plan wasn’t introduced, with the senator from West Virginia who led the Republican plan, Shelley Moore Capito, telling reporters after the meeting that there was “progress, but we still got a ways to go.”
“I think they’re digesting what we proposed, and I think the plan is for them to react to that,” Capito added.
Capito’s office said in a statement to Insider that Friday’s White House offer was “well above the range of what can pass Congress with bipartisan support” and that Republicans and the White House still differed on what’s considered infrastructure, how much should be spent on it, and where that money should come from.
“Based on today’s meeting, the groups seem further apart after two meetings with White House staff than they were after one meeting with President Biden,” Capito’s office said. “Senate Republicans will further review the details in today’s counteroffer and continue to engage in conversations with the administration.”
Separately this week, Capito also floated using unused unemployment benefits to fund infrastructure after April’s weak jobs report, which caused a growing number of GOP-led states to end Biden’s weekly $300 unemployment benefits early.
The White House’s counteroffer comes as Democrats are increasingly calling on Biden to ditch negotiations with Republicans and act big on infrastructure legislation.
Psaki said the negotiations were an art of a “different kind of a deal – a deal for the working people.”
Just the first part of his next sweeping economic package – focused on various types of infrastructure spending – has a price tag of $2 trillion. Taken together with the second part of the package, to be announced in coming weeks, it could result in around $4 trillion of spending.
In his Wednesday announcement of the American Jobs Plan, Biden emphasized the importance of rebuilding not just crumbling roads and bridges, but the middle class as a whole.
“Even before the crisis we’re now facing, those at the very top in America were doing very well, which is fine,” Biden said. “They were doing great. But everyone else was falling behind.”
He added: “We all will do better when we all do well. It’s time to build our economy from the bottom up and from the middle out, not the top down.”
The package certainly faces a long, rocky road before anything becomes law. But if all of its provisions get passed, here’s how the current plan could impact you.
Anyone who commutes – whether by train, bus, or car – could feel the impact of the infrastructure package
Broadly, transportation infrastructure would get a $621 billion investment. The biggest expenditures go towards modernizing roads, bridges, and highways; electric vehicles; public transit; and Amtrak.
“The American Jobs Plan will build new rail corridors and transit lines, easing congestion, cutting pollution, slashing commute times, and opening up investment in communities that can be connected to the cities, and cities to the outskirts, where a lot of jobs are these days,” Biden said. “It’ll reduce the bottlenecks of commerce at our ports and our airports.”
Electric-vehicle ports would see heavy investments, and Americans would have beefed-up incentives for buying clean-energy cars. They’ll be able to drive them on 20,000 modernized miles of roads and highways, or hop on a revamped Amtrak route.
“Imagine what we can do, what’s within our reach, when we modernize those highways,” Biden said. “You and your family could travel coast to coast without a single tank of gas onboard a high-speed train. “
Students of color and researchers would get more funding
Biden would allocate $180 billion to research and development. That includes yet more funding for climate causes, with $35 billion for climate research and development alone. It’s part of his efforts to reverse a long trend of declining federal money going to R&D.
“Decades ago, the United States government used to spend 2% of its GDP – its gross domestic product – on research and development,” Biden said. “Today, we spend less than 1%. I think it’s seven-tenths of 1%.”
Notably, the plan has special carve-outs targeted at students of color. Half of the $40 billion allocated for upgrading research infrastructure would go to Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), as well as Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). HBCUs and MSIs would also get $10 billion – and an additional $15 billion for creating over 200 centers at them to serve as research incubators.
“The American Jobs Plan is the biggest increase in our federal non-defense research and development spending on record,” Biden said.
Workers, especially in the care industries, would get new benefits (like childcare at work)
Care workers and the people who rely on them stand to see big infusions of cash. The package would direct $400 billion towards home and community care for the elderly and disabled, expanding both access to services and benefits for workers in the space.
“For too long, caregivers – who are disproportionately women, and women of color, and immigrants – have been unseen, underpaid, and undervalued,” Biden said.
Childcare facilities would get $25 billion for upgrades; there would also be a tax credit incentivizing employers to build childcare facilities.
Biden is also calling for an end to sub-minimum wage provisions, where employers can pay disabled workers less than the federal minimum wage.
“Unions built the middle class,” Biden said. “It’s about time they start to get a piece of the action.”
Everyone would get access to (affordable) broadband Internet
Technology overhauls worth more than $300 billion could mean more affordable and equitable internet access across the country.
Biden proposed a $100 billion investment in broadband to ensure it reaches 100% coverage across the country while promoting price transparency.
In his speech on Wednesday, Biden said that more than 35% of rural Americans lack access to high-speed Internet, and the disparity has only worsened during the pandemic. His infrastructure plan would help with that.
“When I say ‘affordable,’ I mean it,” Biden said. “Americans pay too much for Internet service. We’re going to drive down the price for families who have service now, and make it easier for families who don’t have affordable service to be able to get it now.”
Small businesses and out-of-work Americans would benefit from new programs
On top of the aid for small businesses and American manufacturers in the stimulus package, Biden wants to invest $400 billion to strengthen and protect American businesses. The infrastructure bill builds on the president’s “buy American” executive order in January and would encourage and promote domestic production of goods.
“Not a contract will go out, that I control, that will not go to a company that is an American company with American products, all the way down the line, and American workers,” Biden said.
Workers can also expect to see investments in job creation and job training efforts, and workforce protections would be strengthened, as well, including efforts to prevent workplace discrimination and supporting the right to unionize.
More affordable housing would get built
The housing sector can expect massive improvements from Biden’s $300 billion investment to revamp homes, schools, and federal buildings across the country. 500,000 homes would be built and rehabilitated for low- and middle-income homebuyers, and jobs would be created to build 1 million affordable and accessible housing options.
“We’ll build, upgrade, and weatherize affordable, energy-efficient housing and commercial buildings for millions of Americans,” Biden said.
Along with building affordable housing, Biden’s plan would update community college infrastructure and invest $28 billion to modernize Veterans Affairs clinics and hospitals and promote more sustainable federal buildings.
SpaceX is rapidly deploying its Starlink internet network across the globe with rocket launches happening on a monthly basis.
By rapidly adding to the number of satellites in orbit, space industry experts believe Elon Musk’s space company is heightening the risk of collisions between space objects, generating an abundance of debris.
SpaceX’s Starlink has blasted around 1,300 satellites into orbit and plans for a megaconstellation of up to 42,000 spacecraft in mid-2027.
In October, Starlink launched its Better Than Nothing Beta test across the northern US for $99 a month, plus $499 for the kit. It now operates in more than six countries and has more than 10,000 users worldwide.
Starlink has previously said its satellites can avoid collisions using an ion drive, which allows it to dodge other objects in orbit. But if the satellites’ communications or operations fail in orbit, they become hazards to space traffic.
In the lower part of the Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Starlink satellites “are completely dominating the space object population,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told Insider on Tuesday.
He said there are around 300 other satellites in the lower LEO, including the International Space Station, in comparison to the 1,300 Starlink satellites.
“There’s a point at which they are so many of them manoeuvering all the time that it’s a hazard to traffic” in space, McDowell said, adding that the hazard can result in a massive collision, creating junk.
Each satellite travels at 18,000 miles per hour and all of them are going in different directions, according to McDowell. If they smash into each other, it sends hypersonic shockwaves through the satellites and reduces them into thousands of pieces of shrapnel which then make a shell around the Earth, he said.
This becomes a threat to other space users and an obstruction for astronomers observing the skies.
McDowell calculated in November that 2.5% of Starlink satellites may have failed in orbit. This may not sound bad in the grand scheme of things. But if this issue persists, SpaceX’s entire planned constellation may produce more than 1,000 dead satellites.
10,000 satellites are due to launch in the next decade
John Auburn, managing director of Astroscale UK, an orbital debris removal firm headquartered in Tokyo, said in a press briefing on March 17 that more than 10,000 satellites are scheduled to be launched in the next 10 years.
McDowell said satellite companies may have some “nasty surprises” if they get this amount of satellites in orbit. He said firms should stop launching satellites when the amount hits 1,000 and monitor them for a while to see if any problems crop up, such as design flaws.
There could be a “complete catastrophe” on the horizon, McDowell said.
But its not all bad news. Daniel Oltrogge, director at the Center for Space Standards and Innovation, told Insider it’s beneficial that Starlink satellites are in the lower LEO because they can be removed more quickly if they fail.
Oltrogge said the space junk issue isn’t a blame game. Any user of space, including governments, and commercial and civil companies, have all contributed to this picture of space debris today, he said.
There are many problems to tackle, said Oltrogge, including satellite operators complying with guidelines that help minimize collision risks, improving space situational awareness and spacecraft design, and exchanging more data between satellite companies.
But if we don’t address the space junk crisis at a global level, rather than at an operator one, “we risk missing how the environment is degrading,” according to Oltrogge.
“We’re not at the end of the world yet,” Oltrogge said. “But it’s a serious situation that warrants scrutiny.”
Why SpaceX is one of the top satellite launchers
Compared to other private commercial satellite companies, SpaceX comes top trumps. Since May 2019, there’s been a staggering 23 Starlink launches via SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
McDowell believes the company’s acceleration may be down to its CEO. “Elon doesn’t have to answer to many people, he can make decisions effectively, he doesn’t have to diver around and get permission,” he said.
On top of this, he has his own rockets to launch the satellites into orbit, McDowell said. This saves him time and money as he doesn’t have to negotiate another launch contract. The fact that the rockets are reusable – the last Falcon 9 booster on Wednesday’s mission was used six times – also makes it cheap for SpaceX to launch satellites.
“That’s an advantage the other companies don’t have,” said McDowell.
A $3.2 billion federal initiative to subsidize high-speed internet for low-income households during the pandemic has just been approved, and applications could open within two months.
The program will offer eligible households discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service, and up to $75 a month if the household is on Tribal lands, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said.
The program will also provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households.
The program is the biggest one yet to help households nationwide afford broadband service, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Thursday, after it voted unanimously to formally adopt the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.
Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC’s acting chairwoman, said she expects the program to be open to eligible households within 60 days.
To be eligible, at least one member of the household must meet one of the following criteria:
Qualify for the FCC’s Lifeline program, including those that are on Medicaid or accept SNAP benefits.
Receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch or breakfast program.
Have lost jobs and seen their income reduced in the last year.
Have received a Federal Pell Grant.
Meet the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program.
“It will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work,” Rosenworcel said. “It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning. It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries.”
During the pandemic, many jobs, schools, and healthcare services have moved online – widening the digital divide. This is especially problematic in rural areas, which are more likely to both have limited broadband access and be located further from amenities.
The pandemic has led to what’s been dubbed the “homework gap,” where students without reliable home internet have struggled to keep up with remote learning.
SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service has amassed more than 10,000 users across the world, just four months after entering beta, Elon Musk’s aerospace company said in a filing Thursday.
SpaceX said in a petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that “over 10,000 users in the United States and abroad are using the service today.”
In the petition, SpaceX asked the FCC to be designated an “Eligible Telecommunications Carrier” (ETC), making it eligible for federal cash, including the money from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF) that it won in December.
The RDOF is a $20.4 billion effort to spread high-speed internet across America, particularly to rural regions.
Speeds vary from 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps, SpaceX said in an email to subscribers when the beta launched. Access costs $99 a month, plus $499 upfront for a kit with a tripod, a WiFi router, and a terminal to connect to the satellites.
The UK is the latest country to approve Elon Musk’s Starlink internet as the billionaire reaches closer to his goal of covering Earth with up to 42,000 satellites to create a superfast global broadband service.
Northern US, southern Canada and now parts of Europe are taking part in Starlink’s “Better Than Nothing Beta” test, which costs $99 a month, plus $499 for a kit with a tripod, a WiFi router, and a terminal to connect to the Starlink satellites.
In the UK, this translates to £439 for the kit and £89 subscription fee for 150 megabits per second (Mbps). But this is expensive considering some national providers offer speeds of up to 516 Mbps for £79 per month.
Philip Hall, in rural Devon, south-west England, told Insider he was one of the first people in the UK to receive the Starlink kit and test out its internet connection.
Hall has barely any internet connection where he lives, making running a business and contacting the family extremely challenging.
Despite the connection dropping out from time to time and the limited range of the signal, he said Starlink was “a hope and a prayer.”
Here’s how he set up Elon Musk’s internet service in his own home.
Philip Hall and his partner live in Brithem Bottom, a rural village located in Devon, south-west England. Before Starlink, they were getting 0.5 Mbps download speed and had no reception. Even the government initiative to provide internet fell through. Hall said he felt “powerless.”
“Without broadband, you’ve got your arms behind your back,” said Hall, who runs an IT business from home. He said his partner has only been able to access a Microsoft Teams call when every internet device in the house is switched off.
Hall said he subscribed to the “Better Than Nothing Beta” test in early 2019. It was “quite challenging” to enrol in because it was designed for American citizens with zip codes, but he managed his way through.
He received an email on December 22nd asking if he’d like to place his order and pay £439 for the kit and £89 for the monthly subscription. He said the price included VAT, indicating it possibly came from a UK office.
The confirmation email came through on December 27th and it arrived on New Years Eve. Hall said he “very excitedly” posted a picture of the kit on the Starlink Reddit community but didn’t open the box until the next day because he was with his family.
Within an hour of opening it on New Year’s Day, Hall ran a Zoom quiz for his grandchildren. “It was wonderful,” he said.
Hall is now seeing average download speeds between 85 and 90 Mbps. “It is absolutely transformational,” he said. The connection has dropped out a couple of times but he said it’s not a problem for people living in rural communities.
After unpacking it from the box, Hall installed the Starlink app on his smartphone. He plugged in the terminal, which positions itself so it’s facing the sky and then tilts to align with the satellites. “It’s like an appliance,” Hall said. “You literally just plug it in and follow an app.”
But the Starlink price is a fall back for some UK users. Starlink costs £89 a month for 100-150 Mbps, while some national providers offer download speeds of up to 516 Mbps for just £79 per month. Hall said he understands that fibre is cheaper, but where he lives, he can’t get fibre so Starlink is the only alternative.
Without Musk’s internet, Hall said that it was “like a chocolate teapot in terms of watching a video.” Starlink has allowed Hall to stream TV series on Netflix and other services including Chromecast.
But like many other Starlink Reddit users, Hall said the range of the router doesn’t stretch that far and the signal can be weak. “When we went to the other side of the house, we weren’t picking it up.”
For people living in rural areas, such as Hall and even indigenous communities in Canada, Starlink can be transformational. “Elon Musk has transformed the whole thing. It’s a very exciting time,” Hall said.