Since joining Empire State Development last year, Joshua Breitbart has been ensuring the progress of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s ConnectALL program, a $1 billion effort to deliver broadband to all New Yorkers. Breitbart is working to expand internet connections and infrastructure across the state while also leading efforts to increase enrollment in government programs that provide subsidies to help people afford faster internet. Breitbart has worked on these issues for more than 15 years, helping the New York City mayor’s office, the New York Public Library system and the Ford Foundation, among others, expand broadband access. In an interview with City & State, Breitbart discussed the Hochul administration’s ongoing efforts to close the digital divide.
Providing universal internet access all across New York presents a multitude of challenges. How is the state prioritizing which challenges to address and then working to overcome them?
Most of the work, to date, has been focused on planning with the support of the federal government and securing the available funds. There are multiple programs and they address the multifaceted challenge of expanding broadband across the state. So the planning is critical to measurably align the programs to reach the areas we need to reach and to work in concert. A lot of what we’re looking at is the hardest of the hard to reach, both in terms of geography and in terms of adoption. So in many cases, the challenge is addressing multiple problems together, making sure that we are deploying service and then making sure that people are aware of the service, aware of the federal subsidy, aware of the support they can get from their library, so that they make use of the service and the service providers can thrive in every region of the state.
What has been the key to getting eligible people into subsidy programs like the federal Affordable Connectivity Program?
Gov. Kathy Hochul took that opportunity seriously to make people aware, New York households aware, of that subsidy and directed a variety of agencies to work together to increase that awareness. I was just on 135th Street with Zoe Ministries and Black Churches for Digital Equity … at Harlem Week, increasing awareness. The FCC has also provided some grants for New York-based partners like National Urban League, the Brooklyn Public Library and others to promote it. We are about to sign up our 1.5 millionth household. We’re also hopeful that Congress will continue the benefit that’s been so successful in supporting adoption and increasing affordability. And that we can continue to have the tool, the Affordable Connectivity Program, as an important complement to Hochul’s initiatives in ConnectALL.
Why has the Hochul administration committed so many resources to the goal of universal access?
I would say it’s a national priority, and it certainly is a priority of the governor’s to connect every region. This is critical infrastructure. Digital equity is really a foundation of a just and fair and prosperous state, and it’s vital for all households to be able to participate in that – not just because it’s a benefit to those households, which is critical in terms of education and employment and civic engagement and health and social connectedness – but also, the returns to our society and our state as a whole in terms of the economic participation, and how we can all rise together through these investments. I think that that’s what we’ve seen. That’s why it’s about making sure that there’s access throughout the state, but also to support every household to make full use of that, so they can thrive on the internet, have a safe and successful experience using the internet for all the benefits that it can bring.
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