NEW YORK (June 8, 2023) – The NYC Council Committee on Technology, chaired by Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez, held a hearing yesterday to comprehensively discuss the implementation of LinkNYC and the deployment of 5G towers across the city. The hearing brought together over 100 individuals to testify, representing a diverse range of perspectives and insights, both in favor and against the initiative.
Council Members directed their questions toward understanding the purpose, process, and utilization of the new 32-foot 5G towers. The Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI), which is responsible for the City’s administration of LinkNYC, deferred many questions to CityBridge, the franchisee that operates the LinkNYC initiative. OTI representatives noted that CityBridge, a private entity, is responsible for the design, siting, finances, and most other considerations for LinkNYC kiosks and 5G towers, and it remained unclear as to the level of oversight or guidance the City has on the program. OTI representatives permitted to speak on the record left the hearing prior to CityBridge’s testimony.
According to OTI and CityBridge, the 5G towers are required to expand 5G connectivity and have the added benefit of expanding fiber connections across the city. However, Council Members noted inconsistencies regarding the initiative’s stated goal of bridging the digital divide, as the towers only serve as street-level hotspots, rather than establishing a mesh WiFi network for homes. The 5G towers are designed to accommodate up to five carriers’ communications equipment and are expected to serve the city for the next decade. However, no telecommunications companies currently use the towers to operationalize the 5G network in New York City, and CityBridge could not provide the leasing fees they would charge once carriers stored their equipment in the 5G towers. As an incentive for carriers to store their equipment in Link 5G towers, CityBridge noted their ability to site towers where carriers request them.
In April, the FCC sent CityBridge a letter mandating a pause on any installations to ensure compliance with the National Historic Preservation (NHPA) and Environmental Policy Acts (NEPA). Originally, OTI informed Chair Gutiérrez that compliance would be conducted retroactively, but during the hearing, testified that OTI sent CityBridge a letter to mandate a pause to ensure compliance prior to future installations. CityBridge testified they have paused all future installations.
Council Member Gutiérrez recognized the importance of finding a balance between addressing community concerns and achieving the goals of the initiative.
About LinkNYC: LinkNYC is a program managed by a franchisee called CityBridge, a consortium of technology, advertising, connectivity, and user experience experts, including Qualcomm, Civiq Smartscapes, Intersection (a company resulting from the merger of Control Group and Titan), and Sidewalk Labs (Google). The Office of Technology and Innovation (DoITT) oversees this franchisee. The City’s agreement with CityBridge was renegotiated after CityBridge stopped making payments to the City in 2018, citing financial distress. The agreement was renegotiated to a minimum guaranteed payment of $3 million per year, plus 8% of gross revenue if the revenue exceeds $100 million (previously reported $60M), down from a 50% revenue-sharing agreement. Chair Gutiérrez inquired about a 2021 Los Angeles RFP that CityBridge responded to, citing their 2019 LinkNYC revenues as $69 million.
A full recording of the hearing, along with all of the submitted written testimony, will be made available in the coming week here.