Mayor Adams unveils free WiFi program for NYCHA residents that could cost upward of $30M annually

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers living in NYCHA developments can get free Wi-Fi and basic cable under a multi-million-dollar program introduced Monday by Mayor Adams, who describes the initiative as a long-overdue “infrastructure of the infrastructure” need 21st Century” touted.

The program, dubbed “Big Apple Connect,” aims to bring about 300,000 NYCHA residents free Wi-Fi and cable by the end of 2023, Adams and his chief technology officer Matt Fraser said during a news conference in Brooklyn. Nearly 40% of NYCHA residents currently don’t have reliable internet access, and that’s “just plain wrong,” Adams told reporters.

“For far too long, residents of NYCHA have been off the grid while the rest of the city has been connected,” the mayor said. “And so the goal here today is that we want to bridge the digital divide.”

The program begins servicing nine NYCHA developments in all five boroughs, including the Langston Hughes Houses in Brooklyn, where Monday’s press conference was held. The effort will continue to expand in the coming months, and the Adams administration expects by the end of 2023 the service will benefit residents of more than 200 developments, which make up more than half of the New York City Housing Authority’s system .

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Altice and Charter, the internet giants behind Optimum and Spectrum, will provide services, according to Adams’ office.

Fraser said the city will pay operators $30 a month for each household it provides with a high-speed indoor Wi-Fi connection, a modem and router, and basic cable TVs. According to City Hall spokeswoman Kayla Mamelak Altus, the administration expects the program to cost about $30 million a year, although the final price will depend on how many households enroll.

The effort is a step away from former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s focus on expanding Wi-Fi access in the city by contracting with smaller, minority- and women-run ISPs instead of giant corporations.

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Announcing an “internet master plan” in October 2021, de Blasio’s office said at the time that awarding contracts to smaller providers ensures they “share in the broadband industry’s economic growth” while encouraging competition to drive down prices.

But Fraser told the Daily News when it came out Monday that the de Blasio administration’s approach meant that Wi-Fi expansion was too slow.

“When we talk about getting things done, it’s not getting things done that makes this administration perfect. It’s about getting things done so we can help the people who need help right now,” he said. “It’s like a trauma patient — you have to stop the bleeding — and that stops the bleeding.”

Adams chimed in on the issue, saying his administration hopes to bring smaller vendors into the process later. “This is not the end of the expansion,” he said.

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Clayton Banks, CEO of Silicon Harlem, a black-owned internet provider hired by the de Blasio administration to help with the 2021 master plan, said he was concerned about Adams’ NYCHA initiative.

He noted that the city’s contract with Altice and Charter is only three years. “What happens after that? Are we going right back to WiFi discrimination or are they raising the price again?” he said.

The banks also expressed concern that giving Altice and Charter an effective monopoly over NYCHA’s internet service wouldn’t be the best bang for city taxpayers’ money.

“If this were open to competition, it would create a more sustainable way of catering to every New Yorker and the big ones would have to lower their price,” he said. “I wish I’d had a chance to speak to the mayor about this, but I think he’s looking for a quick hit.”

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