NYC Mayor De Blasio Escalates Efforts to Close Digital Divide

  • LinkNYC
NEW YORK — The de Blasio Administration announced a series of significant steps aimed at expanding universal access to the Internet and driving down the cost of broadband across all five boroughs. The effort is being led by Counsel to the Mayor Maya Wiley, Chief Technology Officer Minerva Tantoco, and Commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) Anne Roest.

These landmark initiatives build on the Mayor’s ongoing commitment to provide affordable broadband for all New Yorkers. The open Call for Innovations (CFI) is a first-of-its kind endeavor by the city to generate new approaches for reaching underserved communities. The Broadband Taskforce will work with the Administration to review ideas emerging from the CFI and explore how to connect them to larger broadband strategies. The administration also announced appointments to two newly-created high-level positions focused on broadband and telecommunications.

Affordable, Fast Internet for all New Yorkers

“The digital divide creates a fundamental difference between those who have access to economic and educational opportunities and those who do not,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Ensuring that all New Yorkers have affordable, high-speed Internet access is a top priority for this administration and a key strategy in our agenda to fight inequality. We are committed to using every tool we have to meet this goal.”

“From doing homework to finding a job, high-speed Internet access is as important as electricity to building opportunities for all of our people,” said Maya Wiley, counsel to the mayor. “In New York City, we are rich in experts and innovators who look like the city they are working to improve. By bringing together experts as advisors on the Broadband Task Force, building the city's staffing and engaging the public in sharing information and ideas, we will build the bridge that crosses the digital divide and creates a 21st century road to opportunity.”

“Eliminating the digital divide is one of the defining issues of our modern age, one that requires ideas as big and bold as the problem itself,” said Minerva Tantoco, chief technology officer for the City of New York. “The Call for Innovations presents an incredible opportunity to deliver free or affordable Internet to millions of New Yorkers who don’t have it at home. I call on our city’s brilliant minds to join us and help us solve this problem which has existed for far too long.”

22 Percent of NYC Households do not have Internet Service
According to an analysis by the Center for Economic Opportunity, 22 percent of New York City households do not have Internet service at home and 36 percent of households below the poverty line do not have Internet access at home. Recent data on smartphone use, released last week by Pew Research Center, shows that one in five American adults rely on smartphones as their primary source for Internet access. According to Pew, half of all people with no or limited home Internet have had to cancel or suspend their phone service because of financial constraints.

Call for Innovations
Recognizing these challenges, the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation released an open solicitation for new ideas and proposals to provide affordable broadband in underserved communities. The CFI is aimed at technology companies, entrepreneurs and smaller Internet service providers who have insight into the barriers to entry in New York City’s telecommunications and Internet marketplace.

Respondents are encouraged to submit specific ideas relating to new uses for existing infrastructure, community-scale models of service provision, and deployment of new technologies. The deadline for submissions is June 30, 2015 at 8 pm EST. Responses will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

The Broadband Task force is comprised of a diverse group of industry leaders from the private, academic, and nonprofit sectors who will partner with the city’s technology leadership and advise on the development and implementation of a citywide broadband strategy. The Administration also created two new positions focused on broadband and telecommunications, underscoring the Mayor’s fundamental commitment to prioritizing the tech growth and accessibility.

Native New Yorker Alphonso Jenkins was named as the new Deputy Commissioner for Telecommunications Planning at the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). The Administration also named New Yorker Joshua Breitbart as Special Advisor for Broadband in the Office of the Mayor. Together, Jenkins and Breitbart bring with them a proven record of success planning, designing and implementing innovative solutions in the private sector for building broadband infrastructures in low-income communities.

Addressing Economic Inequality Head-on
“If we want to address economic inequality head-on, it’s critical that we expand access to low-cost, high-speed internet for all New Yorkers,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen. “We’re calling on the city’s tech ecosystem to contribute their most innovative ideas to fuel this process, which in the long term will be a major asset not just to individuals, but to the city’s businesses and the broader economy.”

“Lowering the cost of Internet, especially for low-income or underserved families who lack access in their homes, is the first step towards bridging the digital divide in New York City,” said Kyle Kimball, president of New York City Economic Development Corporation. “Enlisting the tech sector and our city’s entrepreneurs to come up with creative solutions that connect more New Yorkers to educational resources, health care, and job opportunities online helps to both foster emerging businesses and create a more fair and equitable city. We are committed, as an administration, to expanding broadband connectivity, fueling economic growth and ensuring New York City remains competitive on a global level.”

“From the classroom to the work space to families' living rooms, broadband access is a critical service in today's digital world,” said Council Member James Vacca, chair of the Committee on Technology. “This city needs to stay at the forefront of the changing digital landscape to create opportunities of success for all our residents. I am excited by the administration’s creation of the Broadband Taskforce that has been charged with developing meaningful solutions to building up the broadband infrastructure across the five boroughs. I look forward to working with the Mayor and the Broadband Taskforce on this amazing endeavor.”

These actions mark the latest escalation in the de Blasio Administration’s ongoing work to close the technology divide in New York City and make New York the most tech-friendly and innovative city in the world. Previously announced steps include the development of LinkNYC, the world’s largest and fastest municipal Wi-Fi network; expansion of the city’s library hotspot program to lend Wi-Fi devices to New Yorkers; and ongoing leadership by the Mayor to promote a free and open Internet through protection of net neutrality and competition in the telecommunications market.

The New York City tech ecosystem has experienced dramatic growth, now directly employing nearly 300,000 people and indirectly generating another 250,000 jobs, altogether accounting for 12.6 percent of the city’s workforce. Through programs including Digital.NYC, the Tech Talent Pipeline, and NYC BigApps, the de Blasio administration is working to support this growth and deliver on its commitment to connect New Yorkers to opportunities generated by the expanding tech ecosystem.

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