Roughly 300,000 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents across 200 developments will get access to free broadband internet and cable TV by the end of next year, Mayor Eric Adams announced Monday at the Langston Hughes Houses in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
The program called “Big Apple Connect” started as a pilot at eight NYCHA developments across the five boroughs including Langston Hughes Houses and will expand to over 100 campuses by the end of the year. The program goal is to get every NYCHA resident online – currently an estimated 30 to 40 percent of tenants in the public housing system don’t have broadband access.
Adams said that during the coronavirus pandemic the lack of internet access at NYCHA developments made it harder for students to partake in remote learning, seniors to access telehealth services and residents to get basic updates when the world had gone virtual.
“A 21st Century city like New York deserves a 21st Century infrastructure and the reality is that that infrastructure has often passed NYCHA residents,” Adams said. “Internet isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity, just like electricity and gas. We saw during COVID [an] absence of internet service. Our young people were not able to do their remote learning. We saw our elders were unable to do telemedicine. We saw just basic updates were not available. And it was just simply wrong.”
“Just as we need those other utilities we need internet services,” he added. “We are focused on that. And for far too long, NYCHA residents have been disconnected while the rest of the city has been connected. So, today we want to bridge the digital divide with the rollout of the Big Apple Connect program.”
The mayor was joined by his Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and city Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI) Commissioner Matthew Fraser, his Chief Housing Officer Jessica Katz, Langston Hughes Houses Tenant Association President Ciprian Noel and City Council Member Julie Won (D-Queens).
Fraser said the Adams administration is taking a different approach to expanding broadband internet from past administrations, prioritizing speed and scope over finding the perfect long term solution.
“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?” Fraser said. “So this administration talks about getting stuff done, it’s not getting stuff done that’s the perfect thing. It’s getting stuff done so that we can help the people that need the help right now. So it’s like dealing with a trauma patient, you have to stop the bleeding and this stops the bleeding.”
As part of the program, the city will give each NYCHA tenant a bundle with free internet – including a modem and a router, basic cable – with a cable box and remote control – and wifi in building common areas, according to a release. OTI will be billed directly by cable providers participating in the program on residents’ behalf.
The Adams administration has partnered with Optimum and Spectrum for three-year terms to provide the service to NYCHA residents, Fraser said, after requesting proposals from local cable TV companies earlier this year. They’re also in negotiations with Verizon as a possible third provider.
Those who already have service through Optimum or Spectrum at developments where Big Apple connect will be automatically enrolled in the program. Others who aren’t current subscribers will be able to sign up for the program directly with either provider or attend upcoming onsite enrollment events.
The program will cost $30 per month per unit that participates, Fraser said, and the overall cost “will be dependent on the deployment footprint.”
Noel said the expansion of this program will tangibly change the lives of NYCHA residents. It’s allowed him to connect with his two children attending college in Texas.
“This program allowed me to connect with my daughter and my son,” Noel said. “I have two kids in college. I’m a single dad raising four kids and I have [two kids] in Texas and I have one income coming in in my household.”
“I was talking to my daughter last night because of the free internet,” he said. “She’s all the way in Dallas, Texas, I’m here in New York and we were having a good conversation. My daughter is telling me she’s making the honor roll. If I had no internet, how would I connect with her?”