Free Internet Could Soon Be Coming to Every New York City Home
A law requiring free internet for every apartment in New York City? If some city officials have their way, it will be a reality sooner rather than later. Council member Ben Kallos proposed a new bill on Thursday that would require landlords who own buildings with ten or more units to provide tenants with internet or “its functional equivalent,” as the proposal stated. “Such dwellings would be subject to additional technical requirements,” the bill reads, “including the installation of Ethernet ports and wiring to facilitate internet access. Violations would be punished under the Housing Maintenance Code.”
The news site Patch reported that Kallos wanted the bill passed to help underprivileged New Yorkers—there are around 500,000 of them who don’t have internet access. Living without it means that applying for food benefits, working remotely, and even reserving COVID-19 vaccine appointments is a challenge, to say the least.
Internet, Kallos believes, needs to be a utility in the same way that electricity, heat, hot water, and phone service are. Landlords who can’t afford to provide it can apply for aid, although he says that they’re looking at an investment that starts as low as $14.95 a month to buy internet in bulk.
The digital gap among New Yorkers and the need for internet became glaring during the pandemic. With remote work and schooling as a way of life and Zoom as a mainstay, New Yorkers who had to live without it faced roadblock after roadblock: Students couldn’t keep up with school, and employees couldn’t do their jobs. Kallos’s proposal is the first of its kind, according to Shaun Pappas, a real estate lawyer at Starr Associates in New York.
However, this isn’t the first time that the city has tried to help New Yorkers get access to internet. In January 2020—just a few months before the pandemic—Mayor Bill de Blasio and chief technology officer John Paul Farmer announced the Internet Master Plan, which aims to provide all New Yorkers with easy, affordable, and fast internet service. In May, the administration announced that the plan had achieved a milestone by bringing internet connection to 13 low-income developments, three of which will receive free WiFi on public grounds.
Shaun Pappas believes that this new proposal is likely to get passed. “The city thinks that internet is an essential service for everyone, and it’s in their interest to serve underprivileged residents and give them whatever they need to live their basic lives,” he said. “Internet is definitely part of that.” Pappas thinks that the free internet landlords offer will be tiered. “They’ll probably provide a basic plan, but you’ll have to pay to upgrade to a higher speed,” he says.
If the bill doesn’t get passed, Tara King-Brown, a real estate broker with the Corcoran Group, says that the landlords who do offer it for free will have a competitive edge. “They will attract more buyers and renters and can build its cost into the monthly rental or maintenance fees,” she says. “Internet today goes beyond being an amenity. It’s the great equalizer that every New Yorker needs and deserves.”