NYC plan would connect public housing residents to free broadband
Dubbed “Big Apple Connect,” the citywide proposal for more than 200 developments owned by the city’s housing authority looks to connect 300,000 residents by the end of 2023.
Around 300,000 residents at more than 200 developments owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) will soon have access to free high-speed internet and basic cable television under a citywide program unveiled by Mayor Eric Adams.
Known as “Big Apple Connect,” the program provides residents with a cable box as well as a modem and router for high-speed internet. The city also will provide Wi-Fi in the common areas of NYCHA buildings, which it said will be selected after consulting with the agency. The program was initially piloted at eight public housing developments, then expanded to more than 100 before this latest expansion to the entire city.
Cable service providers estimate that between 30% and 40% of NYCHA residents across all five boroughs lack access to broadband internet.
“For too long, lower-income communities, immigrant communities, and communities of color have been ignored when it comes to accessing the critical digital tools to help them succeed,” Adams said in a statement. “Broadband is no longer a luxury, but a necessity that all New Yorkers should have access to.”
The program is expected to fully roll out by the end of next year, with the city having signed three-year agreements with Altice and Charter to provide the service.
Residents participating in Big Apple Connect are also eligible to enroll in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program to reduce the cost of their cell phone bills.
New York City attempted to get its residents’ citywide lack of connectivity under control in early 2020 when then-Mayor Bill de Blasio first launched its Internet Master Plan, one phase of which looked to spend $157 million on a fiber infrastructure strategy that would connect up to 1.6 million residents in three years.
But Adams put the plan on hold earlier this year, in a move Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser said at the time was to allow officials with the new administration to evaluate its effectiveness. Meanwhile, the New York City Council was scheduled today to debate several bills designed to reduce the digital divide.
Local officials said the lack of reliable broadband access, which dogged communities large and small throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, has prevented many residents from taking full advantage of opportunities available through the internet. In response, governments have adopted a variety of strategies including municipal-run broadband, partnerships with private companies to give them access to the public right-of-way to install the necessary infrastructure or extensions to public Wi-Fi networks.
“‘Big Apple Connect’ is a game-changer for today’s New Yorkers living in public housing on par with the advent of utilities like heat or hot water,” Fraser said in a statement. “Our city’s students, senior citizens, parents, and job seekers who need in-home, high-speed internet access the most will experience tangible day one benefits that enrich their lives for years to come.”