During testimony in front of the New York City Council on Tuesday, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) Commissioner Jessica Tisch condemned CityBridge for its failure to meet the terms of a franchise agreement regarding the installation and service of LinkNYC kiosks.
In her testimony, Tisch said CityBridge is "delinquent" and only paid the city $2.6 million of the $32.3 million owed in FY19 under the terms of its agreement. Consequently, the city was short $30 million from projected revenues in that fiscal year. She also said CityBridge has failed to install and activate promised LinkNYC kiosks, and to remove old payphones as detailed in the agreement.
Furthermore, in FY20, CityBridge has not paid any of the $43.7 million owed per its agreement, despite collecting revenues of $105 million from advertising, according to Tisch.
"To me, it's unacceptable that they haven't paid," she said when answering questions following her testimony. "I can't speak for them about why they haven't paid. I have no patience for it."
CityBridge, a consortium of tech companies including Intersection, Qualcomm and CIVIQ Smartscapes, denied the "fictional narrative" that Tisch detailed.
"While the public's use of LinkNYC's free services has far exceeded expectations, installing Links has proven more difficult and costly than expected, largely due to the City’s own rules and bureaucracy," a spokesperson for CityBridge told Smart Cities Dive via email.
"For nearly two years, CityBridge has tried to work with the City to solve these problems, but we have been consistently met with silence and delay," the spokesperson continued. "CityBridge has maintained LinkNYC's free services for the public — across all five boroughs — at no cost to users or taxpayers and is committed to the continued success and expansion of the program."
There are currently 1,769 active Link kiosks in New York, and just one (at 528 3rd Ave.) that has been installed but is not yet connected to Wi-Fi, according to the LinkNYC website. A majority of these Links are in Manhattan; Tisch said 537 Links still owed to the city are supposed to be installed in more underserved areas outside of Manhattan.
"New Yorkers who would benefit most from this service are not getting it," she said.
LinkNYC won "Infrastructure Advancement of the Year" in the 2017 Smart Cities Dive Awards. At the time, sources said more than 7,500 Links were planned to be installed by 2022. Tisch said that DoITT amended the franchise agreement in 2018 to extend the timeline of build-out and even granted "forbearance from payments for a period of one year."
Now, Tisch is committing to take "any and all necessary action against these multiple breaches of contract to collect the money the city is owed."
This heated testimony was part of a larger discussion around adjusting the DoITT's FY21 preliminary budget to further modernize New York's tech infrastructure. Since Tisch was appointed as commissioner in December 2019, she has worked with the city on a Text to 911 program, a Next Generation 911 initiative, 311 modernization and accelerating the city's 5G buildout.
Tisch detailed the DoITT's budgets and eventually landed on the topic of CityBridge when addressing "the general downward trend" of the department's franchise revenues. She pointed to shifting consumer habits and cord-cutting as two reasons for this drop in revenues, but said CityBridge was the "largest source of this revenue hit."
Days before the testimony, Gothamist reported plans from DoITT and CityBridge to uproot an estimated 3,000 pay phones across the city in the spring and replace them with LinkNYC kiosks. It is unclear if the groups will still follow through on this plan, as there is speculation DoITT may terminate its contract with CityBridge, according to a report from AMNY.
When asked to confirm these reports to Smart Cities Dive, DoITT ignored the request and deferred to Tisch's testimony.
Outside of New York, Link has sister kiosk networks in Philadelphia (LinkPHL) and Newark, NJ (LinkNWK). Kelly Cofrancisco, deputy communications director for the City of Philadelphia, told Smart Cities Dive that the city has worked closely with CityBridge affiliate Intersection since 2011 on the LinkPHL initiative.
She did not indicate any issues with the contract, and said the city is in consultation with PennDOT to expand the LinkPHL network.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misrepresented CityBridge's involvement in LinkPHL and LinkNWK.