In an effort to further bridge the New York City’s digital divide, the de Blasio administration is spending $70 million to expand cheap, high-speed broadband across the five boroughs, the city announced today.
The 10-year plan aims to bring Internet access to 20,000 low-income homes and improve existing public Wi-Fi networks throughout the city. Calling Internet access “as important as electricity,” the administration said it’s committed to expanding it to more of the 22% of New York residents who are currently unconnected.
The administration plans to spend most of the $70 million within the first two years of the 10 year program. $25 million is earmarked to create wireless corridors which will deliver internet access to 20,000 low-income homes. An additional $7.5 million will be spent to improve existing wireless networks throughout the five boroughs, such as the Harlem free Wi-Fi zone. New York state has also agreed to kick in $1.6 million to improve wireless signals in industrial areas to the benefit of some 500 businesses.
The announcement comes as the 110-year-old New York subway system is getting outfitted with cellular service and free public Wi-Fi. That project, which aims to bring service to all 279 underground subway stations in the city, is expected to be completed by 2018, with dozens of stations throughout Manhattan and Queens already online.
Public Wi-Fi expansion is no easy undertaking. In 2004, Philadelphia announced a huge, ambitious plan to turn the city into one giant, 135-square-mile Wi-Fi hotspot, aiming high for what would have been a historical first. But those ambitions fell flat when EarthLink, the ISP that won the contract to build out the network, withdrew from the project in 2008. The city of Philadelphia bought the guts of EarthLink’s network the following year and, like practically every other municipal Wi-Fi project in the country, the Wireless Philadelphia initiative was laid to rest.
New York’s efforts are a bit less ambitious than previous attempts to offer citywide Internet access. For one thing, the city isn’t attempt to build one giant hotspot, focusing instead on constructing smaller, more manageable Wi-Fi access zones throughout the city. The newly announced plans presumably include Internet service delivered directly to consumers’ homes, although the technical specifics of the rollout haven’t been revealed.