NEW YORK (September 20, 2022) – The Committee on Technology held an oversight hearing on Monday, September 19th jointly with the Committee on Zoning and Franchises on the status of the indefinitely-paused Internet Master Plan, the temporary program that the Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI) is relying on as a substitute, and other plans and funding to connect more New Yorkers to internet and broadband services.
The Internet Master Plan (IMP), which was announced in January 2020 under former Mayor de Blasio, was designed to help the more than 1.5 million New York City residents who do not have wired internet access at home. The newly rebranded Office of Technology and Innovation confirmed once again during today’s hearing that the IMP continues to be paused while it is “reevaluated.” Nearly 10 months into the Adams administration, OTI was not able to provide details on any other short-, medium-, or long-term plans to connect New Yorkers to the internet beyond the Big Apple Connect program, announced the morning of the hearing.
The Committee also sought answers about the Big Apple Connect program, which an OTI representative referred to as a “promotion.” OTI testified that the cost of the program will be dependent on the number of households enrolled, rather than a flat fee negotiated into a contract with internet service providers. OTI also testified that they anticipate the cost to be around $30 million per year for each year the program is active, and with no current dedicated line item in the budget, OTI funds this program through month-to-month invoices.
Other key takeaways from the hearing include:
- NYCHA developments undergoing RAD/PACT conversion are not eligible for participation in Big Apple Connect, and there are no active conversations with NYCHA about plans to include them.
- The next phase of the Internet Master Plan — a $157 million effort that would build out public broadband infrastructure — has yet to launch, and those funds remain unspent.
- The Committees also focused on the lack of M/WBE providers invited to participate in Big Apple Connect and future programs, which was a key aspect of the IMP. OTI testified that diversity is vital to the program, but could not provide any details, plans, or timelines regarding future inclusion.
- Many of the M/WBE providers that were selected as part of the previous robust and time-consuming RFP process in 2021 have not since been contacted by OTI.
- OTI has no plans to wire emergency shelters with internet access or provide families in emergency shelters with the devices they need to apply to services, employment, or complete schoolwork. They were also unable to comment on the progress to wire single men’s shelters.
- OTI had no information regarding the funding that NYC is entitled to under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $42 billion in funding for the Broadband Equity, or New York State’s WIRED Broadband Act, which provides a total of $1.45 billion, for ConnectALL to manage fiber deployment, municipal assistance, innovation grants, and digital equity grants.
- Council Members and advocates noted the long-outstanding issues with the providers selected for the Big Apple Connect Program.
“I am deeply concerned that OTI was not able to provide any details on longer-term plans to connect New Yorkers to the internet beyond the Big Apple Connect program, which was announced the morning of the hearing. While I celebrate a program that expediently provides internet access for our NYCHA developments, it’s unacceptable that OTI does not have a comprehensive plan that works to connect more New Yorkers to the internet. I understand the challenges of reevaluating a plan from a previous administration, but OTI should not be starting from scratch — the City already has a comprehensive plan that was built by a diverse coalition of advocates, business leaders, and experts. We need a robust roadmap, not pop-up programs,” said Chair of the Technology Committee, Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez.
“I want to thank Chair Gutiérrez and Chair Riley for today’s important hearing as bridging the digital divide is a major step in tackling inequality across New York City. Earlier this year, I launched a pilot program in my district to provide free broadband to NYCHA residents and based on the success of the pilot, am now working with nine of my council colleagues to launch the program in their districts. By signing up residents for the Affordable Connectivity Program, a funded subsidy from the federal government, we brought high speed connectivity to NYCHA residents at no cost to New York City taxpayers. OTI’s launch of Big Apple Connect is a noble expansion of this goal of bridging the digital divide. However, at a time when economists have issued a worrying forecast for New York City, I expressed concerns at today’s hearing about the Administration’s ability to pay for Big Apple Connect at a cost of $30 million per year when we have a model that utilizes federal subsidies that we can scale citywide at no cost to the city,” said Council Member Julie Menin.
“I applaud OTI and the Mayor for the new Big Apple Connect program that will bring free, high-speed internet access to many NYCHA residents for the next three years, including residents of Queensbridge and Woodside Houses. However, many questions remain about the program. The City must make sure residents are not saddled with expensive plans and equipment if the three-year Big Apple Connect contract expires. We must also make the most of the federal money from the Affordable Connectivity Program,” said Council Member Julie Won, “Among the bills we heard today were proposals to open existing City Wifi networks to the public and expand outreach around existing discounted internet programs, like the Affordable Connectivity Program and Big Apple Connect. Like Chairs Gutiérrez and Riley, I want to make sure that our City is developing a comprehensive, long-term plan to bridge the digital divide for all of the over one million New Yorkers that lack high-speed internet access.“
“In a society that is greatly reliant on quality internet access and connectivity, it was imperative that we conduct this hearing today to advocate for strategic planning, transparency, and accountability that would expand broadband internet to underserved, low-income communities. The expansion of the Big Apple Connect program is crucial to our NYCHA community, but we must ensure that broadband is not only accessible, but also reliable. Having existing infrastructure of broadband service that is intermittent or inconsistent is not progress. I thank Chair of the Committee on Technology, Council Member Gutierrez and my fellow colleagues for their partnership in getting some much-needed answers for our communities. There is still so much to be done to cultivate a more affordable and easily accessible internet connection for all New Yorkers. I commend the work of the OTI to provide temporary emergency resources. However, as we continue to identify opportunities to improve our infrastructure in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, our City needs sustainable, long-term solutions that address the digital divide and expands internet access for all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Kevin C. Riley.
A full recording of the hearing is available online here.