On Monday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams kicked off a new program whereby two of the city's largest cable operators, Charter (Spectrum) and Altice (Optimum), will deliver free, subsidized service to public housing residents.
The new program – dubbed "Big Apple Connect" – will enable New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents to receive free Internet and basic cable service. The program will initially be available to more than 100 NYCHA developments and will increase to more than 200 by the end of 2023, covering roughly 300,000 New Yorkers.
"This is the largest municipal sponsored broadband program for public housing residents. The largest," said Mayor Adams during a press conference at Langston Hughes Houses, a NYCHA residence in Brooklyn.
"What we're talking about today is not just about free Wi-Fi. It's about economic development, it's about public health, it's about safety, and it's about having a fair shot like every other person who has money does," said CTO and Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI) Commissioner Matthew Fraser.
New York City's other incumbent provider – Verizon – is TBD on the program. In a press release, the mayor's office said it is "continuing to negotiate with Verizon as a possible third franchisee." Both Altice and Charter have signed on for three-year agreements through which the city will be billed directly for all of the subscribers enrolled in the program. At a press conference, Fraser said the program would cost the city $30 per unit.
Departure from the 'Master Plan'
Big Apple Connect comes after the Adams administration put its predecessor's program, the New York City Master Plan, on hold. The Master Plan was introduced under Mayor Bill de Blasio in January 2020. But Gothamist reported earlier this year that the new Adams administration was re-evaluating it.
In some respects, the new program is a departure from the Master Plan in strategy. The Master Plan envisioned a multi-year effort to close the digital divide across New York City. It also emphasized the involvement of startups, minority- or women-owned business enterprises and cooperatives. Last year, as the first (and only) program of the plan, the de Blasio administration enlisted five startup providers – Starry, Sky Packets, Silicon Harlem, Flume and NYC Mesh – to provide free and affordable Wi-Fi to 13 NYCHA buildings.
Addressing the city's choice to partner with incumbent providers for Big Apple Connect, both Fraser and Mayor Adams said during the press conference that it was a matter of getting people who need it most connected faster.
"When you look at the previous approaches that focused on multi-year delivery, talking about getting something tangible into someone's hands in two years, four years, five years – what's the cost of inaction? How many people do we actually get left behind?" said Fraser. "While we work on something that can be more sustainable long term, we have to cover the problems that we have today."
Adding to that, Adams said the city is still "laser focused" on boosting opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses but that "it was crucial to get these families to get high-speed broadband and this was the fastest way to do that."
NYCHA residents who are already connected through Altice or Charter will see their bills automatically drop to as low as $0. Those who don't have access can sign up for the program with Altice (which services buildings in the Bronx and part of Brooklyn) or Charter (which services buildings in Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island and the rest of Brooklyn). Big Apple Connect includes free installation of high-speed broadband of 300 Mbit/s as well as a modem, router and cable box.
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