Residents of more than 200 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments will be eligible for free internet access and basic cable by the end of 2023, Mayor Eric Adams announced at a press conference on Monday.
All told, the plan could connect as many as 300,000 New Yorkers to no-cost high-speed internet.
“Something as simple as providing free, accessible Wi-Fi can change the life of a New Yorker,” Adams said.
But that’s fewer New Yorkers than what could have been served by a similar plan under former Mayor Bill de Blasio — a project that was scrapped by Adams earlier this year. New York City Council members are also raising concerns about the vendors being commissioned for the new endeavor.
The Adams plan, called Big Apple Connect, could cost taxpayers just less than $30 per household per month, city officials said. But the final price tag depends 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 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 which have been the targets of lawsuits and audits for their failure to provide the services they’d promised.
Sikoff said the city chose the large cable providers because they’re already set up in NYCHA developments, making it quick and easy to get residents connected.
“There’s an immediate need for services,” he said. “Using the existing providers, we can stop the bleeding.”
But the Adams administration has been sitting for months on a well-regarded internet strategy laid out by de Blasio. The “Internet Master Plan,” released in 2020, promised to use a mix of large companies and smaller, local providers to close the digital divide for 1.5 million New Yorkers.
A pilot program had 45,000 NYCHA residents hooked up to municipal broadband. De Blasio even committed $157 million in the summer of 2020 to speed up the program — a cash infusion that would have funded low-cost internet access for 200,000 NYCHA residents by the middle of this year.
That money has been sitting unused while OTI reevaluates the plan, Sikoff said at Monday’s City Council meeting.
Jennifer Gutiérrez, who represents New York’s 34th District in the City Council and chairs its technology committee, criticized the agency for its sluggishness.
“Almost 10 months into this new administration, it’s unacceptable that OTI does not have a comprehensive roadmap toward connecting more New Yorkers to the internet,” she told Gothamist in a written statement.
“I respect the challenges of reevaluating a plan from a previous administration, but OTI should not be starting from scratch — the city already has an overreaching plan that was built by a diverse coalition of advocates, business leaders and experts. We need a robust roadmap, not pop-up programs,” Gutiérrez continued.
It’s unclear what will become of the new program once its initial three-year contracts are up. There’s the possibility that the Adams administration will extend it for an additional year. But after that, residents may have to go back to paying for internet service, or else turn in 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 service. Sikoff told the Council that Big Apple Connect enrollees can switch their ACP credit over to help defray the cost of a monthly mobile plan.