Hard political questions facing City Comptroller John Liu (36436)

New York City Comptroller John Liu’s State of the City address Thursday will touch on an under-discussed but important topic: broadband access for low-income New Yorkers.

According to Liu’s camp, he’s in talks with several telecommunication companies in the city about expanding the access and availability of broadband Internet to the working class. In his speech, Liu will cite the Federal Communications Commission working with large cable companies to provide families whose kids qualify for the National School Lunch Program with broadband Internet access at a discounted price of $9.95 per month.

While the plan will eventually hit all 50 states, Liu would like the program to extend its reach in the five boroughs by having cable companies provide the same discounts for people living on food stamps, Social Security insurance and Medicaid and in Section 8 housing.

“The wealth divide is not the only profound gap in our society,” said Liu in an excerpt from his address obtained by the AmNews. “It rests on top of another divide that needs to be addressed immediately in order for prosperity to be shared equitably; I’m talking about the digital divide that makes it difficult for kids without access to technology and the Internet to do their homework and to perform to the best of their ability in school.

“This digital divide also affects the unemployed or underemployed, who cannot look for work successfully without the ability to search and apply for jobs online,” he said.

Last February, a study released by the Pew Hispanic Center said that 52 percent of African-American homes in America have high-speed Internet access, as do 45 percent of Latino homes. According to the study, 65 percent of white homes have high-speed Internet access.

A May 2011 study called “Broadband Internet Service Adoption and Use in New York State Households” stated that non-adoption rates for lower-income groups-those who make between $20,000 and $60,000 annually-are from one in five to one-third of the households not adopting the service wherever broadband was available. The study implies that unaffordability played a role.

“Broadband is no longer a luxury-it is a necessity,” said Liu.