Residents of more than 200 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) housing developments will be entitled to free Internet access and basic cable through the end of 2023, Mayor Eric Adams announced at a news conference Monday.
All in all, the plan could connect up to 300,000 New Yorkers to free high-speed Internet.
“Something as simple as providing free, accessible Wi-Fi can transform a New Yorker’s life,” Adams said.
But that’s fewer New Yorkers than could have been reached with a similar plan under former Mayor Bill de Blasio — a project abandoned by Adams earlier this year. New York City Council members are also raising concerns about the vendors being hired for the new venture.
The Adams plan, dubbed Big Apple Connect, could cost taxpayers just under $30 per household per month, city officials said. But the final price will depend on how many people sign up, Brett Sikoff, executive director of the city’s newly created Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI), told lawmakers at a city council hearing on Monday.
Two of the city’s cable titans — Charter Communications and Altice — will provide the Internet and cable service. The city is also in talks with Verizon, Sikoff told the city council.
Council members raised concerns about the new plan’s reliance on these massive internet service providers, some of whom have been the target of court cases and audits for failing to deliver the services promised.
Sikoff said the city chose the major cable providers because they are already set up in NYCHA developments, making it quick and easy to connect residents.
“There is an immediate need for services,” he said. “With the existing providers, we can stop the bleeding.”
But the Adams administration has been sitting on a respected Internet strategy designed by de Blasio for months. The “Internet Master Plan” published in 2020 promised to close the digital divide for 1.5 million New Yorkers with a mix of large companies and smaller, local providers.
A pilot program connected 45,000 NYCHA residents to city broadband. De Blasio even committed $157 million to accelerate the program in the summer of 2020 — a cash injection that would have funded low-cost internet access for 200,000 NYCHA residents by the middle of this year.
That money was sitting idle while OTI reevaluates the plan, Sikoff said at Monday’s city council meeting.
Jennifer Gutiérrez, who represents New York’s 34th district on the city council and chairs its technology committee, has criticized the agency for its sluggishness.
“After nearly 10 months of this new administration, it is unacceptable that OTI does not have a comprehensive roadmap to connect more New Yorkers to the internet,” she told Gothamist in a written statement.
“I respect the challenges of reassessing a plan from a previous administration, but OTI shouldn’t start from scratch – the city already has an overarching plan created by a diverse coalition of advocates, business leaders and experts. We need a solid roadmap, not pop-up programs,” Gutiérrez continued.
It’s unclear what will become of the new program once the original three-year deals expire. There is a possibility that the Adams administration will extend it for another year. But after that, residents may have to pay for internet service again or give up their equipment and lose internet access, Sikoff said.
Low-income New Yorkers also have the option of enrolling in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a federal program that subsidizes internet services. Sikoff told the council that Big Apple Connect participants can exchange their ACP credit to cover the cost of a monthly cellular plan.