Mayor expands free broadband internet plan for NYCHA residents in the Bronx, citywide

New York City Mayor Eric Adams announces the expansion of his NYCHA broadband internet plan in the Bronx on Thursday, March 23, 2023.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams announces the expansion of his NYCHA broadband internet plan in the Bronx on Thursday, March 23, 2023.
Photo courtesy Mayor Eric Adams Facebook page

New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the expansion of his broadband network initiative Thursday morning, which will provide up to 40,000 new households with free or discounted internet and cable access. 

The mayor first announced the initiative — coined Big Apple Connect — at a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complex in Brooklyn last September, vowing to connect public housing residents across 200 developments with access to free broadband. The program provides NYCHA residents with bundles consisting of free in-home high-speed internet, including a modem and a router, basic cable TV with a cable box and remote, and common area Wi-Fi hotspots. 

The initiative will expand to an additional 67 NYCHA developments, according to the mayor’s office. In total, the city will be providing free or discounted broadband access to 202 NYCHA complexes, reaching approximately 300,000 New Yorkers by the end of the year. 

The expansion will include 14 new developments in the Bronx. That’s compared to 25 new buildings in Manhattan, 20 in Brooklyn, five in Queens and three on Staten Island.

At a press conference in the Bronx on Thursday, Adams praised members of his administration for their work on the initiative. 

“I know that throughout the years you have been denied, ignored, promises made, promises not kept,” he said. “This is the promise we made. This is the promise we kept.” 

NYCHA is the largest public housing authority in North America and home to 1 in 16 New Yorkers, according to the agency. It was created in 1935 to provide affordable housing to low and middle income residents, and encompasses more than 177,000 apartments within 335 housing developments. There are 71 NYCHA buildings in the Bronx.

Adams said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated social, educational and health-related issues among NYCHA residents due to disparities in reliable internet access, asserting that the expansion of Big Apple Connect will close that gap. 

“Broadband is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity,” the mayor said. “It was the hidden divide that many people ignored.” 

Matthew Fraser, the chief technology officer for the city Office of Technology and Innovation, said Thursday that Black and brown communities across the Bronx and other parts of the city have been disproportionately affected by the lack of broadband access — which is an issue that Big Apple Connect aims to address. 

“Our public housing community is part of the strongest part of the city, it’s the backbone of the city,” Fraser said. “And the families that come here — start here — deserve access to critical services so that they can compete and they can stay here.”

According to the New York City Council Data Team, in some community districts — many of them in the Bronx — more than 40% of households lacked high-speed broadband service in 2020. Citywide, about 25% of households were without a broadband subscription, and that percentage runs even higher for Black, Hispanic, low income and senior households.  

And for NYC Department of Education students in 2020 — between 11% and 13% of those surveyed in each borough lacked adequate internet access at home. That amounted to more than 114,000 students across the city.

A graph shows the disparities in broadband internet services in New York City in 2020.
A graph shows the disparities in broadband internet services in New York City in 2020.  Map courtesy NYC Council Data Team

Norma Saunders, the president of the NYCHA Bronx River Tenant Association, said that she’s excited for more people to have access to college and scholarship applications, the news and for seniors to have reliable, unbreachable internet. 

“Once you pay your rent you should have the best quality of life, and having this capability is amazing,” she said. “We should be competing with Manhattan, we should be proud of where we live at, where we lay our head at, where we come home.” 

Bronx City Councilmembers Amanda Farías and Rafael Salamanca Jr. also attended the mayor’s announcement and expressed their support of the program. 

According to Fraser, for NYCHA residents who are already Optimum or Spectrum basic cable and high-speed broadband customers, their next bill will be completely covered by the city automatically. For those residents with more advanced plans, they’ll get a portion of their next bill paid for by the city. The Office of Technology and Innovation will be billed directly for all residents enrolled in the Big Apple Connect program.  

NYCHA residents can find more information about enrollment by calling Optimum at 866-580-1410, Spectrum at 866-960-1754 or by visiting the Big Apple Connect web page on the city website.

Reach Camille Botello at [email protected] or (718) 260-2535. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes