NYC to close digital divide for 1.6M residents, advance racial equity

Footprint of NYC's broadband investment by NTAs, highlighting overlap with TRIE priority neighborhoods
Courtesy of NYC Mayor's Office

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday the largest step of any city in American history toward providing affordable broadband for all.

Through its Internet Master Plan, New York City will be the first city in the nation to reverse the digital redlining that has left communities of color disconnected, ensure that Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) share in the economic growth of the broadband industry, and incentivize at scale high-quality affordable internet service options for New Yorkers.

“Broadband isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity,” de Blasio, a Democrat, said. “We are closing the digital divide and bringing our city into the 21st century by reaching communities most in need.”

The city announced that it will reach up to 1.6 million New Yorkers in the next 36 months by using $157 million to build publicly owned, open-access broadband infrastructure. The city is also designating a wide range of companies — large and small, including multiple M/WBEs — to provide fast, reliable, and affordable connectivity options to an additional 70,000 NYCHA residents and 150,000 residents in the surrounding communities by early 2022.

Already, the city is in the process of bringing free or low-cost internet connectivity options for up to 40,000 residents in 18 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments by the end of the year. This historic initiative brings newly affordable connectivity to a majority of NYCHA residents, with options to further scale affordable broadband to all neighborhoods citywide.

“The City is taking unprecedented action to make sure that the digital divide soon becomes a thing of the past,” said Deputy Mayor for Administration and Chief of Staff Emma Wolfe. “We’re not just connecting New Yorkers to the internet. With the City’s investment in both connectivity and new infrastructure, we’re ensuring that affordable, reliable, high-speed internet service will be possible well into the future.”

The New York City Internet Master Plan is a first-in-the-nation roadmap to close the digital divide and transform the broadband market, incentivizing companies of every size, including M/WBEs, to provide new high-performing and affordable broadband service options. The NYC Internet Master Plan found that nearly one-third of New York City households lacked broadband at home and others lacked mobile connectivity. This means close to 3.4 million residents had been excluded partially or entirely from modern life. The Internet Master Plan is accelerating broadband deployment to address racial inequities by prioritizing public housing communities, which have previously suffered from decades of digital redlining.

Disparities in internet infrastructure and Internet Service Providers (ISP) are especially concentrated in specific geographic areas – the South Bronx, Upper Manhattan, Southeastern Queens and Central Brooklyn – which experience some of the city’s highest rates of neighborhood poverty. New Yorkers in these neighborhoods have fewer service options, which can lead to less affordable service, as long-serving incumbent ISPs are disincentivized to compete for customers.

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