Bliss tenants push for wider internet access | Columbia County

HUDSON — The Hudson Housing Authority is considering providing free Wi-Fi to tenants of Bliss Towers.

During the Authority’s monthly meeting Monday, a tenant of Bliss Towers, the city’s largest affordable housing complex, complained that she was paying upward of $100 — nearly half her rent — for Wi-Fi through Mid-Hudson Cable, Hudson’s main internet provider.

Her assertion has not been corroborated by Mid-Hudson Cable, but has started a conversation among housing advocates in the city about low-income families’ access to inexpensive or free Wi-Fi.

Brian Lawlor, the Authority’s attorney, said it was up to the Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners to decide whether to allow an outside provider to supply internet to the building. This came as news to board members, who were largely under the impression they had to work directly with the area’s main service provider.

The change in law came in November of 2021, when Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program, a new long-term, $14 billion program that would replace the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. This investment in broadband affordability helps ensure low-income families can afford the connections needed for work, school, health care, and other services.

“We may offer free Wi-Fi for tenants to use in accessible areas of the building like in the community room,” Hudson Housing Authority interim Executive Director Nick Zachos said. “We’re trying to figure it out and are exploring all options.”

In the meeting Monday, some tenants expressed anger over not being able to access the community room. Zachos ensured that if they do provide accessible Wi-Fi in the building’s open spaces that all tenants would have access.

However, Zachos said he is reluctant to make long-term decisions since the board will vote on a new executive director in April.

Internet accessibility has become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, where school, work, and even connecting with friends migrated to virtual conference applications like Zoom that rely on fast internet.

“With the pandemic Wi-Fi is critical for almost everything,” Hudson Housing Justice Director Michelle Tullo said. “Having that access to the internet is crucial for families and children for educational opportunities. Housing prices keep going up so cheap Wi-Fi is vital for residents of affordable housing.”

Shaheim DeJesus, owner of the Hudson-based internet provider Unity Now is in talks with the Authority to provide a cheaper internet to residents of affordable housing in Hudson. DeJesus’ company offers internet for about $30 per month.

“This has been a goal of mine to give the tenants of Bliss Towers affordable Wi-Fi,” DeJesus said. “Our first step would be to bring our services directly to the building.”

DeJesus lived in Bliss Towers with his family in the early 2000s. His small company, consisting of himself and two interns, does not use cable infrastructure to provide Wi-Fi, and instead installs antenna dishes on fixed locations on top of homes and businesses.

In New York, according to a 2018 report, about 30% of residents had no broadband access at home. This was mostly felt in lower-income households. More than half of the lowest-income residents did not have access to broadband internet services, according to a study by the New York City Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

A third of Black and Hispanic residents did not have access to broadband internet at home, compared with 21% for white residents and 23% for Asian residents, according to the study. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need to provide better internet access for everyone.

A special meeting is required for the Hudson Housing Authority to decide on providing free or reduced-cost internet to the city’s residents of affordable housing.

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