New York City to provide free internet to 200 public housing sites

Written by Benjamin Freed

The New York City government plans to connect more than 300,000 public housing residents to free Internet and basic cable services by the end of 2023, Mayor Eric Adams and Chief Technology Officer Matt Fraser said Monday.

The program, dubbed Big Apple Connect, is in a pilot phase this year in eight homes operated by the New York City Housing Authority and is expected to expand to about 100 projects by the end of this year, Adams and Fraser said, eventually reporting 200 homes.

“This was something that we knew was crucial, we wanted to get it done right away,” Adams said during a press conference at Langston Hughes Houses in Brooklyn. “As we continued to spread information around the city, we knew we needed to expand that connectivity so people could get that information.”

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Fraser, whom Adams appointed in January to consolidate the city’s fragmented technology efforts, said attempts by past mayors to bring internet connections to New York’s poorest residents have failed, including efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were a lot of pledges for social housing and what connectivity would look like. It was unfair to be on the heels of COVID,” Fraser said. “They sent children home with devices in pre-war buildings and as soon as they walked through the door, those devices stopped working. We’ve given them access to hotspots, but they can only use them if they’re by a window.”

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A citywide internet master plan released in 2020 by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio has been on hold since shortly after Adam took office. De Blasio’s proposal would use about $2.1 billion in public and private infrastructure — much of it undeveloped — to connect the roughly 1.5 million New Yorkers who live with limited or no high-speed Internet access.

On Monday, Fraser said the Big Apple Connect program is designed to more directly fill gaps in coverage.

“When we talk about getting things done,” he said, borrowing Adam’s campaign slogan, “it’s not about getting things done, so it’s the perfect thing, it’s about getting things done so we can help people, who need help right now. It’s like dealing with a trauma patient. This will stop the bleeding. We have to cover the problems we have today.”

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So far, two of New York’s largest cable providers — Charter Communications and Altice — participate in the NYCHA program, and Fraser said the city is “in discussion” with Verizon.

Officials said Big Apple Connect will be the largest municipal broadband subsidy undertaken by a city. According to Fraser, the only program that’s bigger is the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers more than 10 million homes $30 a month off their broadband or wireless bills.

The New York City Housing Authority said Monday that beneficiaries of the Big Apple Connect plan can apply FCC rebates to their cellular data plans.

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