NYC public housing residents will have free internet access by 2023. Weirdly, that's a downgrade.

NYC public housing residents will have free internet access by 2023. Weirdly, that’s a downgrade.

Residents of more than 200 NYCHA developments will be entitled to free internet and basic cable access by the end of 2023, Mayor Eric Adams announced at a press conference Monday.

In total, the plan could connect up to 300,000 New Yorkers to high-speed internet at no cost.

“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 the number that could have been served by a similar plan under former Mayor Bill de Blasio — a project that was scrapped by Adams earlier this year. City council members are also expressing concerns about the vendors mandated for the new venture.

The Adams plan, called Big Apple Connect, could cost taxpayers just under $30 per household per month, city officials said. But the final price depends on how many people sign up, Brett Sikoff, executive director of the city’s new Office of Technology and Innovation, told lawmakers during a city council hearing on Monday.

Two of the city’s cable titans – Charter Communications and Altice – will provide internet and cable service. The city is also in talks with Verizon, Sikoff told the city council.

Council members expressed concern about the new plan’s reliance on these huge internet service providers, some of which have faced lawsuits and audits for their failure to deliver the services they promised.

Sikoff said the city chose the major cable companies because they are already installed in NYCHA developments, making it quick and easy to connect residents.

“There is an immediate need for services,” he said. “By using existing providers, we can stop the bleeding.”

But the Adams administration has been sitting for months on a well-considered internet strategy crafted by de Blasio. The “internet blueprint,” released in 2020, promised to use a mix of big business and small, local providers to bridge the digital divide for 1.5 million New Yorkers.

A pilot program connected 45,000 NYCHA residents to municipal broadband. De Blasio even committed $157 million in the summer of 2020 to accelerate the program — a cash injection that would have funded low-cost internet access for 200,000 NYCHA residents by the middle of this year.

That money sat idle while OTI reassessed the plan, Sikoff said at Monday’s city council meeting.

Jennifer Gutiérrez, who represents New York’s 34th District on City Council and chairs its technology committee, criticized the agency for being slow.

“Nearly 10 months into this new administration, it is unacceptable that OTI does not have a comprehensive roadmap to connect more New Yorkers to the internet,” she told Gothamist in a post. written statement.

“I respect the challenges of reassessing a plan from a previous administration, but OTI should not be starting from scratch – the city already has an ambitious plan that was developed by a diverse coalition of advocates, business leaders and of experts. We need a solid roadmap, not contextual programs,” Gutiérrez continued.

It’s unclear what will happen to the new program once its first three-year contracts end. It is possible that the Adams administration will extend it for another year. But after that, residents may have to start paying for internet service again, or else return their equipment and lose internet access, Sikoff said.

Low-income New Yorkers also have the option of enrolling in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal program that subsidizes internet service. Sikoff told the Council that Big Apple Connect registrants can transfer their ACP credit to help cover the cost of a monthly mobile plan.

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