Free Broadband Service for NYCHA Developments

(Photo by photosteve101, Creative Commons License)
(Photo by photosteve101, Creative Commons License)

New York City has launched a first-of-its kind investment to bring free, high-speed broadband service to over 16,000 New Yorkers living in five public housing developments in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

The initiative, led by the Office of the Mayor’s Counsel in partnership with DoITT and NYCHA, will invest up to $10 million dollars for the five developments, starting with a demonstration project that will bring wireless access to the 7,000 residents of NYCHA’s Queensbridge North and Queensbridge South Houses, which together make up the largest public housing development in the nation, says a press releases issued by the City Hall.


Mayor Bill de Blasio and Counsel to the Mayor Maya Wiley made a formal announcement about the initiative on July 16, which comes in conjunction with ConnectHome, a bold new initiative by President Barack Obama. Obama’s initiative will bring together internet service providers, non-profits and the private sector to offer broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and devices for residents in HUD-assisted housing units. New York City – one of 27 cities which won HUD’s competition to participate in ConnectHome – has been recognized for its commitment to aggressively expand affordable access to broadband, including the wireless corridors, said the press release.


City officials insist that they want to change the perception that access to high-speed Internet is a luxury rather than a utility.

“President Obama has been a tireless leader for universal broadband,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “And Secretary Castro, a former mayor himself, knows firsthand the importance of solving income inequality. HUD has long been a critical partner, supporting the City’s ability to survive disaster and serve low-income residents. Through ConnectHome, my administration will be able to deepen our private partnerships and leverage our public investment in universal, affordable Broadband for hard working New Yorkers who struggle to support their families and desperately need broadband,” the press release quoted the mayor as saying.

“No child should worry about whether or not she can finish her homework because her family can’t afford broadband at home,” said Maya Wiley, Counsel to the Mayor. “Every parent should be able to go online to see if their child has completed that homework, no matter the size of their paycheck. Getting high speed internet access to low-income New Yorkers is a game changer for families and for the city that needs all our residents to be able to use 21st Century technologies to improve their lives and to build their communities.”

“NYCHA’s vision for the families who live in our communities is one that is safe, clean and connected.  Our residents, who include more than 100,000 children, have lacked access to the benefits that the wireless broadband Internet provides,” said NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye. “Today, thanks to the vision of our President and our Mayor and the commitment of our partners to equal opportunity for all New Yorkers, the digital divide between NYCHA and the rest of our City begins to close. The ConnectHome initiative will help guarantee safe, clean and connected communities for all New Yorkers.

“Technology has long been a means for many to lead more fulfilling lives, to advance their careers, and to make a difference,” said Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications Commissioner Anne Roest. “In our digital age the technology baseline is access to high-speed Internet service, and DoITT is honored to partner with the Mayor’s Office and NYCHA to continue advancing broadband deployment as part of a more connected, equitable city for all.”

The ConnectHome program will bring affordable, residential broadband access within reach of more NYCHA households, complementing the wireless networks the administration is building in Queensbridge, Red Hook and Mott Haven. Both initiatives are part of the City’s broader strategy for getting to universal affordable broadband by 2025. Using a model similar to the libraries “mi-fi” program that launched in NYC last year, Sprint, with support from HUD, will make mobile Wi-Fi devices available to over 15,000 NYCHA households in the Bronx that include k-12 students. The program is expected to benefit some 28,000 children in the borough.

According to an analysis by the Center for Economic Opportunity, 22 percent of New York City households do not have internet service at home and 36 percent of households below the poverty line do not have internet access at home. Recent data on smartphone use by the Pew Research Center shows that one in five American adults rely on smartphones as their primary source for Internet access. According to Pew, half of all people with no or limited home Internet have had to cancel or suspend their phone service because of financial constraints.

Recognizing these challenges, earlier this year the administration committed $70 million in capital investment over the next 10 years for free or low-cost wireless service for low-income communities. These investments are part of the administration’s aggressive approach to expanding broadband access, which recognizes that high-speed internet is no longer a luxury but a critical service that must be affordable to all city residents.

Following Queensbridge, the administration will create a second network to serve the 6,500 residents of Red Hook East Houses and Red Hook West Houses in Brooklyn. The third network will be built at Mott Haven Houses in the South Bronx, which houses over 2,500 residents. The wireless networks will provide internet service of at least 25 Mbps for all residents, meeting the aggressive federal standards aimed at increasing baseline broadband speeds.

In OneNYC, the Mayor committed to universal broadband in New York City by 2025. These networks will be the first of a series of corridors in underserved communities in the five boroughs, as part of a larger administration strategy to close the digital divide by expanding universal access to the internet and driving down the cost of broadband across all five boroughs.

The investments at Queensbridge will complement NYCEDC’s recent announcement that $5.3M in public and private funding will support expansion of high-speed service to businesses in former industrial areas, including areas close to the Queensbridge Houses. Together, these investments mark a significant escalation of the administration’s actions to address access and affordability challenges for residents and businesses.

These actions mark the latest escalation in the de Blasio administration’s ongoing work to close the technology divide in New York City and make New York the most connected and equitable city in the world. Previously announced steps include the formation of a Broadband Taskforce; the development of LinkNYC, the world’s largest and fastest municipal Wi-Fi network; expansion of the City’s library hotspot program to lend Wi-Fi devices to New Yorkers; and ongoing leadership by the Mayor to promote a free and open internet through protection of net neutrality and competition in the telecommunications market.

“Whether you’re a parent looking for a job, a child working on a school project, or a family looking for information on services, broadband access is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity. This effort helps close the digital divide and addresses the needs of the nearly 3 million New Yorkers who do not have access to broadband internet at home. I thank Secretary Castro and Mayor de Blasio for their leadership and look forward to bringing the internet to more New Yorkers,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

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