New York City announced Thursday that it will install high-speed broadband service in two public housing projects later this year, at no charge to residents, as part of a broader effort to shrink the Internet access gap between rich and poor.
"Whether you're a parent looking for a job, a child working on a school project ... broadband access is no longer a luxury; it's a necessity,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in a statement. "This effort helps close the digital divide and addresses the needs of the nearly 3 million New Yorkers who do not have access to broadband Internet at home."
The first housing projects to be wired under this effort are Queensbridge North and South, in Queens, followed by Red Hook East and West Houses, in Brooklyn, and Mott Haven, in the South Bronx. The city says it hopes to bring high-speed access to 16,000 through the $10 million effort, giving them an alternative to using library computers or browsing the Web on smartphones.
The contractor for the broadband service has yet to be selected, a city official said, and the mayor's plan does not include subsidies for computers to access the Internet.
The move comes as federal regulators have started to treat Internet access as an essential household utility, rather than an optional communications service. Earlier this year, the Obama administration successfully pushed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate Internet traffic more like a public utility, such as telephone communication.
The FCC ruled companies can’t charge extra to increase the loading speeds of site that can afford the “fast lane,” the equivalent of a pay phone requiring more change for a clearer-sounding call.
President Barack Obama announced a similar effort in a speech Wednesday in Oklahoma. The ConnectHome plan, proposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, aims to link 200,000 low-income and rural children to better Web service, according to the White House.
“The Internet is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. You cannot connect with today’s economy without access to the Internet,” Obama said, according to a transcript of his speech.
The federal ConnectHome project, which is separate from the city’s effort, partners with Sprint to expand Wi-Fi access to kids. The federal government has set aside $150 million in grants to fund the effort.
The city says 22 percent of New Yorkers lack Internet connections in their homes, according to a study by the Center for Economic Opportunity, the statistical analysis arm of the mayor’s office. For households below the poverty line, that figure is even higher, at 36 percent, the study found.
The new service will provide download speeds of at least 25 Mbps (Megabytes per second), the mayor’s office announced. That lags behind the city average of 56 Mbps, according to Ookla, a consultancy group that measures Internet speeds. The city says the new service will meet “the aggressive federal standards aimed at increasing baseline broadband speeds.”