Op-Ed | LinkNYC is vital tech infrastructure for small businesses in the Bronx

A Link5G kiosk is seen in New York City.
A Link5G kiosk is seen in New York City.
Photo courtesy LinkNYC

In the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became especially clear to Bronxites how dependable broadband access is key to economic development in our borough. Small business owners, more than ever, rely on high-speed mobile and in-home internet services to level the playing field and become competitive in and outside their neighborhoods, especially as their cooperation with services like Grubhub, Getir, DoorDash, and others become more essential to their survival.

But the harsh reality is not all of our neighbors have the same access to a reliable broadband connection. This issue is especially prevalent in the Bronx, where almost 40% of households lack broadband access and one in five teens can’t finish their homework because of the digital divide in their community.

The only way to address the problem head on is to increase access to affordable, high-speed internet so our students can study, our community members can connect with new employers, and our small businesses can thrive — in other words, it means leveraging the most innovative technology available to create opportunities for our schools, business owners and residents.

As someone who spends most of my time speaking with small businesses, I can tell you that too many neighborhoods in my borough have lacked the ability to get online affordably for far too long. But now, thanks to LinkNYC and its Link5G smart poles, we’re seeing the paradigm shift.

Here in the Bronx, LinkNYC offers everyone free high-speed Wi-Fi, free nationwide calling, touch screen tablets with local information and access to social services, and a robust free advertising program for small businesses. Even better, LinkNYC’s new Link5G smart poles — the first of which was deployed in Morris Heights — provide the same free services we know and love, all while enhancing Bronxites’ ability to take advantage of 5G cell phone service. And because the program has a focus on digital equity, we know these state-of-the-art smart poles will be prioritized for installation in the most underserved communities across our borough.

True support for the small businesses that make up 98% of our city’s companies means deploying new resources like Link5G to help them succeed. This infrastructure will allow our beloved mom-and-pops to remain competitive and bring new, well-paying tech jobs to our communities. The hundreds of thousands of dollars of free ad space LinkNYC offers to local businesses and civic organizations — from barber shops to community boards — doesn’t hurt either. The program is building stronger communities and local economies in every neighborhood where they’re installed.

As the voice for over 30,000 Bronx-based businesses ranging from single entrepreneurs to large-scale employers, the Bronx Chamber of Commerce can say without a doubt that all businesses will benefit from this investment to modernize and future-proof our city’s telecommunications infrastructure. The proof is in the data: in just one month last year, over 800,000 Bronxites used LinkNYC’s free Wi-Fi network more than 2.5 million times. With the expansion of the Link5G program, we will see even more services directed toward marginalized residents across the Bronx — all at no cost to taxpayers.

It’s a well established fact that New Yorkers’ entrepreneurial spirit is second to none, but our hardworking business leaders need and deserve the very best technology at their fingertips to pull our city’s economy out of the devastation wrought by the pandemic. In expanding our options to get online, the LinkNYC program is nothing short of critical for the Bronx, for our small business economy, and for the future of our city. We can’t afford to pass on this opportunity to address the digital divide before it causes irreparable damage to our borough’s prosperity — and I urge our elected officials in the Bronx to continue supporting this program.

Lisa Sorin is the president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce.

For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes