Brooklyn, NY - Today, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Council Member Ben Kallos announced the release of a new white paper titled “Bridging the Digital Divide for Every New Yorker with a Universal Internet Guarantee.” The report notes how reliable high-speed Internet connection has become a basic need for every New Yorker, whether for remote learning, working from home, virtual socializing, and more. This need has become especially acute amid a deadly pandemic that has placed severe limitations on people’s ability to safely gather in-person.
Borough President Adams and Council Member Kallos, both of whom have been outspoken about the City’s and private sector’s failures to provide Internet access to the communities that need it most, hailed the new report as a comprehensive roadmap for achieving universal Internet access in New York City.
"The coronavirus pandemic has shown all of us the importance of a reliable high-speed home internet connection, whether for remote learning and working from home or for gathering virtually with loved ones. With many households in Black and Brown communities lacking high-speed internet, the shift to social distancing has been particularly challenging and has exacerbated long-standing inequities. As we prepare for a second wave, or for the next virus, we must rebuild our society with the guarantee of universal broadband—finally treating the internet as a utility like phone service or electricity. We must use all of New York City’s local regulatory power to deliver on the promise of universal broadband by establishing a Universal Internet Guarantee," wrote Borough President Adams and Council Member Kallos.
The digital divide, which describes the gulf between those that have easy access to reliable, high-speed Internet connection and those that do not, maps onto broader entrenched inequities of race and class in New York City. According to data collected by the U.S. Census in 2015, one in three households in the Bronx and one in four households in Brooklyn lacked access to the Internet. Both boroughs have the highest proportion of low-income communities of color in the city. A report by the New York City Comptroller’s office released last year further found that About 30 percent of Hispanic and Black New Yorkers lack broadband Internet access, compared to 20 percent of White New Yorkers and 22 percent of Asian residents.
This divide has been thrown into sharp relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, most notably in the administration of remote learning for New York City students. When the City initially shifted to remote learning in March of this year, it quickly procured 300,000 iPads with LTE for $269 million to distribute to students. But it has struggled in the months since to fulfill every request for a remote learning device, leaving some students - largely Black and Brown - without any way of logging in for remote instruction. In a City Council oversight hearing in late November, the Department of Education (DOE) said roughly 60,000 students who requested a device in the early fall still had not received one. Chancellor Carranza says he expects to fill all outstanding requests for remote learning devices before the winter break. Even those that receive devices, however, sometimes struggle to log in for remote instruction due to a poor or non-existent Wi-Fi connection, especially those living in shelters or public housing.
In the report, Borough President Adams and Council Member Kallos lay out several steps which, taken together, could pave the way for universal internet access in all five boroughs.
Create a “Mandatory Inclusionary Internet” requirement for new developments akin to the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, which requires new developments in rezoned areas to provide a certain amount of affordable units.
- Require providers of 5G to offer a free or low-cost high-speed Internet option targeted to low-income New Yorkers.
- Create a free municipal Wi-Fi network using the infrastructure provided by the City’s abandoned “NYCWiN” initiative.
- Expedite the timeline for installing LinkNYC kiosks, which provide free public gigabit Wi-Fi.
- Wire the City’s bus stops and shelters with USB charging ports and free Wi-Fi.
- Use votes on the Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC) to hold providers accountable for offering affordable Internet to all New Yorkers as a condition of their franchise renewal agreements.
- Work with cable franchisees like Spectrum, Altice, and Verizon, to provide free or low-cost broadband to all low-income New Yorkers, modeled after efforts like Spectrum Internet Assist and Altice Advantage Internet.
In addition, Borough President Adams and Council Member Kallos urged the passage of legislation they introduced in October, co-sponsored by Council Member Farah Louis, that would guarantee every student who needs one a free, internet-ready laptop with culturally responsive learning materials. The bill would also require the DOE to report on the demographics of which students access these remote learning devices, their housing situations, Internet connections that already exist at their homes, sources of computer funding, and information on all DOE computers.