New York City

Vote on NYC Wi-Fi hot spot contract set for Wednesday

Would replace pay phones; Negotiation continues on issue of neighborhood disparity

December 10, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A vote on planned citywide Wi-Fi hotspots takes place on Wednesday. Rendering courtesy of CityBridge
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The city’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC) is set to vote on Wednesday afternoon whether or not to approve a contract which would replace New York City’s payphones with free Wi-Fi hot spots.

A consortium of technology and advertising companies called CityBridge was chosen by the city to create the proposed “LinkNYC” Wi-Fi system, which would provide free calls to anywhere in the U.S., high speed Internet and charging stations.

Mayor Bill de Blasio strongly backs the contract, saying positive feedback has been “pouring in.” He sent out statements on Monday and Tuesday listing numerous supporters, including Kathryn Wylde, CEO, president and director of Partnership for New York City, Inc.; Sheila Akbar owner of Bedstuy Fresh and Local; Javier Valdes of Make The Road and 19 tenant association presidents from New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments.

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Questions remain, however. On Dec. 3, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and the city’s five borough presidents issued a statement saying they were concerned that the plan would create a two-tier system – one for rich neighborhoods and one for poor.

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UPDATE: NYC approves plan to replace pay phones with Wi-Fi. Full details here.

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As originally proposed, the LinkNYC Wi-Fi system would be funded by advertising revenue. That means kiosks in wealthy neighborhoods — mostly in Manhattan — could average Internet speeds ten times faster than most locations in the outer boroughs.

Only six percent of the faster connections were planned for the Bronx.

Since the Dec. 3 statement, the city has been quietly negotiating with the officials, leaving open the possibility that Internet speeds would be distributed in a more equitable manner.

The FCRC held a hearing on Monday to discuss the contract. The Comptroller’s representative before the FCRC praised LinkNYC in general, calling it “cutting edge and innovative.”

“That being said, our office has flagged numerous issues with the contract, and is now working with City Hall to resolve these issues. We will ensure that New Yorkers are not left behind, that the digital divide that currently exists begins to shrink, and that not only will all New Yorkers receive the fastest Internet speed that is currently possible, but these speeds will be increased as the technology allows,” the representative said, according to a statement provided by the Comptroller’s Office.

Christina Levin, Mayor de Blasio’s assistant press secretary, told the Eagle on Tuesday, “We continue productive conversations with our colleagues in government to refine our LinkNYC plan and address any community concerns, and we look forward to furthering our proposal to expand free, high-speed broadband access to New Yorkers across the five boroughs.”

Stringer: ‘Internet inequality’ an issue

In a report issued Dec. 7, Stringer analyzed data from the Census Bureau to study patterns of “Internet inequality” across the city.

In his report, Stringer found that 30 percent of households in Brooklyn lack broadband, compared to 21 percent in Manhattan. Certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn have even less Internet access, with rates running around 50 percent.

“It is startling just how great the divide is in our city is when it comes to accessing high-speed Internet,” he said.

The FCRC is comprised of six members. Two represent the Mayor, one represents the Law Department, one represents the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), one represents the City Comptroller, and representatives of the five Borough Presidents share one vote.

CityBridge says the system will be built at no cost to taxpayers and will generate more than $500 million in revenue for the City over the first 12 years.

If approved, construction of the LinkNYC network will begin in 2015, and the first structures will become operational by the year’s end. Up to 10,000 Links will be installed across the city.

LinkNYC is a public–private partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and CityBridge.

Members of the CityBridge consortium include Titan, Control Group, Qualcomm, Comark, Transit Wireless and Antenna Design.


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