New York City unveiled an ambitious plan Tuesday to bring universal internet access to its 8.5 million residents by partnering with private internet service providers, a move Mayor Bill de Blasio says will help close the digital divide. The Internet Master Plan would create partnerships between the city and ISPs to facilitate permitting processes and developing infrastructure, such as fiber optic cables.
"Every New Yorker deserves easy, affordable access to the internet," de Blasio said in a statement. "Providing equitable broadband service to all New Yorkers regardless of where they live or how much they make is vital to ensuring everyone has the basic tools they need to succeed."
Providing high-speed internet access is an important policy objective in many cities and towns, as services and education are now online. Communities in low-income areas often don't get adequate coverage because ISPs are often unwilling to upgrade infrastructure unless they're confident of returns. The absence of reliable internet connections can make it difficult for people to apply for jobs online or get services, such as driver's licenses. Children often can't do online homework assignments.
The announcement doesn't mean New York will be creating its own internet service, which cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee, have done in order to attract young people and businesses. Instead, the mayor's office is hoping public-private partnerships will help address a problem that's dogging cities around the country. Market research shows almost a third of US households don't have broadband connections reaching even 25 megabits per second. Chattanooga's service, by contrast, is 40 times faster than that.
Rural households are particularly hit by the digital divide -- about one in five rural households don't have a broadband connection. It's an issue that's been taken up by Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who's called for an $85 billion rural broadband program.
Cities are affected too, though. More than a third of Bronx residents don't have broadband at home, and nearly half of all New Yorkers living in poverty lack home broadband access, the mayor's office said. What's more, 1.5 million New Yorkers have neither a home broadband connection nor a mobile connection on a phone or other device. That prevents residents from accessing job and employment opportunities, and holds back the economy, the mayor's office said.
De Blasio's office relied on research led by HR&A Advisors, a group that helps develop public-private partnerships to address policy goals, in addition to CTC Energy and Technology, Hunter Roberts Construction Group, Stantec, Baller & Lide, and The New School Digital Equity Lab. HR&A previously worked on efforts like the creation of the High Line park on an abandoned railway spur in Manhattan.