Bensonhurst officials ask city, ‘Why no free Wifi?’

May 29, 2018 Paula Katinas
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The city’s technology revolution is passing Bensonhurst by.

Neighborhood officials are miffed that the city’s much-touted LinkNYC program, which makes free Wifi available to residents via sidewalk kiosks, is nowhere to be seen on local streets.

“We would like to have them,” Community Board 11 District Manager Marne Elias-Pavia said. “They would provide a valuable service to the residents of our community. Not everyone can afford to pay for high-speed internet.”

In addition to free WiFi, the LinkNYC portals offer users free phone calls, easy access to the 911 and 311 systems, maps and social services platforms through a LinkNYC network. The kiosks are also equipped to serve as charging stations for people seeking to charge their cell phones and other mobile devices.

More than 3.5 million people have used the free WiFi since the first LinkNYC stations were installed in 2016, according to city officials. The 9.5-foot-tall kiosks contain 55-inch high-definition screens on both sides. The panels replaced the old pay telephones that used to line the sidewalks.

There are currently more than 1,600 LinkNYC kiosks on New York City sidewalks, including an abundance of them in trendy, upscale Brooklyn neighborhoods like Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg.

The city plans to install 7,500 LinkNYC kiosks over the next several years.

In Park Slope, the kiosks also list the arrival times of buses at local bus stops. The bus time information was installed under a pilot program.

Other neighborhoods, like Sunset Park, have also been linked up to LinkNYC. Along a 13-block stretch of Fourth Avenue from 24th Street to 37th Street, there are six kiosks.

Residents seeking to vote for capital budget projects in their neighborhoods as part of the City Council’s Participatory Budgeting program could find ballots on their local LinkNYC kiosks.

But there is a dearth of the tall, sleek-looking technology stations in Bensonhurst and other Southwest Brooklyn communities, according to local elected officials, who are calling on the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, the agency responsible for the program, to rectify the situation.

Councilmember Justin Brannan posted a map of Brooklyn on his Twitter page to illustrate the lack of LinkNYC in Southwest Brooklyn.

“It’s just not fair that the wealthiest communities in New York City have an abundance of free WiFi and neighborhoods like Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights don’t have a single LinkNYC WiFi kiosk. Going forward, LinkNYC must fulfill its franchise agreement and provide kiosks to underserved areas from Bay Ridge to Coney Island to Brownsville,” Brannan told this paper via email.

On his Twitter page, Brannan called Southwest Brooklyn “a WiFi-free desert.”

Councilmember Mark Treyger said he is annoyed at the absence of LinkNYC portals in his district.

Treyger charged that the haphazard rollout of the program is turning New York into a city of technology haves and have-nots.

“Internet services are not cheap, and neither are internet-capable devices. Meanwhile, internet access can be critical when looking for employment, researching for academic purposes, medical services, banking or other financial services, and news and information. Many an employer requires employees to be available electronically, too,” he wrote in an op-ed in this newspaper. “I believe strongly that your zip code should not be a determining factor in what opportunities are made available to you.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio first announced a plan to bring free WiFi to New York City streets in 2014 with a promise to include all five boroughs. The city hired a consortium called CityBridge to install the kiosks.

Officials from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications briefed CB 11 on the plans in 2014 and told the board they were scouting possible locations on Kings Highway, 86th Street, New Utrecht Avenue and 18th Avenue. “But since that time, we have received no updates,” Elias-Pavia said.

The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications issued a statement in response to inquiries from this paper.

“LinkNYC is a pioneering and successful initiative, already connecting more than 3.9 million New Yorkers and visitors to superfast WiFi, free calling, and more—at zero cost to taxpayers. Since the public launch in 2016, more than 1,600 Links are active across all five boroughs with thousands more set to be deployed over the next few years. Link deployment follows the installation of high-speed fiber optic cables along corridors through the city. We look forward to each of the thousands more that will hit the streets in the next few years, including those in Southwest Brooklyn,” the statement reads.

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