What's next for New York's internet master plan?  - Cities today

What’s next for New York’s internet master plan? – Cities today

September 21, 2022

by Sarah Wray

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser launched what they called a “historic digital equity program” this week. Big Apple Connect will make high-speed Internet and basic cable television available to 300,000 residents of more than 200 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments for free by the end of 2023.

Later in the day, Brett Sikoff, executive director of franchise administration at the city’s Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI), told a watchdog hearing that the internet master plan to more term was still pending while it was being reassessed.

The Internet Master Plan, announced in January 2020 under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, was designed to connect 1.5 million New Yorkers and included a capital investment commitment of US$157 million. Since then, there has been the pandemic, a change in administration and a consolidation of technology-related departments.

“I am deeply concerned that OTI was unable to provide details on longer-term plans to connect New Yorkers to the internet beyond the Big Apple Connect program, which has been announced on the morning of the hearing,” said Jennifer Gutiérrez, Board Member, Chair. of the technology committee.

“As I celebrate a program that quickly provides Internet access for our NYCHA developments, it is unacceptable that OTI does not have a comprehensive plan that connects more New Yorkers to the Internet.”

Connection to the big apple

Big Apple Connect will provide residents of NYCHA developments with a free plan that includes high-speed home internet; basic cable television service; and Wi-Fi hotspots in common areas.

The program was piloted in eight public subdivisions in the five boroughs and has now been extended to more than 100 subdivisions.

“‘Big Apple Connect’ is a game-changer for today’s New Yorkers who live in public housing on par with the advent of utilities like heat or hot water,” said the CTO and the OTI Commissioner Matthew Fraser in a press release. “This citywide broadband initiative ensures that New Yorkers don’t have to put off their dreams – or go unmet their basic needs – because they don’t have the resources. needed to pay for the Internet or live in a pre-war building.The students, seniors, parents and job seekers in our city who need high-speed Internet access at home the most will benefit from the first day of tangible benefits that will enrich their lives for years to come.

Once fully rolled out, Big Apple Connect is expected to be the largest municipal program to cover the cost of internet for public housing residents nationwide.

Asked at the hearing about the status of the internet master plan, which the city said was pending earlier this year, Sikoff said, “When this administration came in, we looked at the master plan carefully to see where there are duplications, not just the fiber infrastructure around town, but the duplication of money that is being spent elsewhere on other programs.

He said that this reassessment is ongoing.

“While the master plan called for a multi-year and very costly investment, Big Apple Connect will immediately help citizens,” he added.

Sikoff also pointed to other efforts to bridge the digital divide, such as the LinkNYC program which was recently restarted with 5G kiosks.

He said the US$157 million allocated for the internet master plan remains intact.

The Big Apple Connect program could eventually cost around US$30 million per year, but that depends on how many residents sign up. OTI will be invoiced directly but a dedicated budget line has not yet been allocated.

Council member Julie Menin expressed concern about the cost of paying for Big Apple Connect rather than encouraging residents to sign up for the federal Affordable Connectivity program.

Sikoff said Big Apple Connect also includes cable TV and aims to give residents choice. NYCHA residents enrolled in Big Apple Connect could also use the ACP benefit to save money on cell phone bills.


Besides expanding connectivity for residents, another goal of New York’s Internet Master Plan was to increase access for smaller, minority-run providers.

Following a request for proposals from New York’s cable TV franchisees for Big Apple Connect, the city entered into three-year agreements with Altice and Charter Communications and “continues to negotiate with Verizon” as a possible third franchisee.

Sikoff confirmed that the tender was only sent to these three vendors due to their existing infrastructure, but said market diversification remained a priority.

During a Big Apple Connect press conference, Fraser said: “In government, we often try to find the best, most perfect and most ideal solution, and then you forget that there are people who are actually suffering. .

“This administration – when we talk about getting things done, it’s not getting things done that’s the perfect thing, it’s getting things done so that we can help people who need help right now.

“While we’re working on something that might be more sustainable in the long run, we need to cover the issues that we have today.”

But some vendors who were selected last year through a separate request for proposals process for the internet blueprint say they are in limbo.

Stuart Reid, co-chairman of The Smart Community Initiative, Inc., said during the hearing that the company has heard nothing from the new administration.

“Nobody contacted us,” he said.

Council member Gutiérrez commented: “I understand the challenges of reassessing a plan from a previous administration, but OTI shouldn’t be starting from scratch – the city already has a comprehensive plan that was put together by a diverse coalition of advocates, business leaders and experts. We need a solid roadmap, not short-lived programs. »

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said cities today“We see the master plan as an incredibly ambitious grand plan, but Big Apple Connect is delivering it right now.”

When asked if a more detailed announcement on the future of the master plan would be made, they replied: “It’s quite the language: Internet master plan was de Blasio’s plan, Big Apple Connect is the plan. of Mayor Adams.”

Further information on expanding affordable internet access beyond social housing was not immediately available.

[21 September: Updated to add additional comment from the Mayor’s Office]

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