- In an effort to advance digital equity, New York City plans to provide free high-speed internet and cable television to more than 300,000 people who live in New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, developments by the end of 2023.
- The Big Apple Connect program is an expansion of a previous city pilot that provided free internet and cable services to eight public housing developments throughout the city. The new program will, by the end of next year, reach tenants living in more than 200 public housing developments with the city reaching three-year contracts with cable companies Altice USA and Charter to provide the services, better known as Optimum and Spectrum, respectively.
- “A 21st Century city like New York deserves a 21st Century infrastructure, and the reality is that infrastructure has often passed NYCHA residents,” said New York Mayor Eric Adams during a press conference on Monday. “Internet isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity, just like electricity and gas.”
Matthew Fraser, the city’s chief technology officer, said students had been unable to take advantage of devices and Wi-Fi hotspots they received from the city because the equipment did not, or struggled to, connect to the internet in public housing buildings.
“This is by far the largest municipal broadband program that’s ever been launched,” said Fraser during the press conference. “It’s one that’s based on delivering results, quick.”
The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in 2020 placed a spotlight on the digital divide in the U.S., as many low-income families, minority-majority neighborhoods and rural areas lack affordable access to reliable internet service.
Many people lacked access to services such as telehealth, education and jobs, increasing long-standing inequities.
City leaders have created plans and taken steps to provide access to reliable internet service, computers and internet devices. Federal COVID-relief funds have aided those efforts. So did the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year, which created the $42 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program that expands high-speed internet access to underserved communities.
NYC estimates 30% to 40% of NYCHA residents lack broadband. Through the program, those residents will not be billed for internet and basic cable services through Charter and Altice. The city is still negotiating with Verizon as a possible third service provider.
The Big Apple Connect program will immediately expand to more than 100 NYCHA housing developments by the end of the year, and reach more than 200 by the end of 2023.
Some low-income households enrolled in the program are also eligible to receive up to $30 per month toward internet or cellular data service federal benefits through the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity program, the city noted.
“For far too long, NYCHA residents have been disconnected while the rest of the city has been connected,” said Adams during the press conference. “The goal here is today we want to bridge the digital divide.”