The nation's largest public Wi-Fi network launched in Harlem Tuesday, eventually offering free outdoor Internet access to thousands of residents and visitors over 95 blocks.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it's the latest step in creating a comprehensive Wi-Fi zone across all five boroughs.
Tech advocates praised the newest effort to increase Internet access, saying that a wireless Big Apple is key to sustaining the city's future.
The privately-funded initiative will give 80,000 residents free wireless Internet access for at least five years.
Harlem's Wi-Fi zone will be bordered on the west and east by Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Madison Avenue. The first phase will stretch from 110th to 120th Streets when it's completed this month. Access will increase to the north through May, when the zone will stretch as far as 138th Street.
"Creating the nation's largest continuous Wi-Fi network is a big step toward the administration's goal of making New York the number one digital city in the nation," Bloomberg said.
He added that the Harlem Zone is an important complement to Chelsea's free Wi-Fi area and others across the city.
The need for Wi-Fi is growing as businesses and residents increasingly rely on online data through their mobile devices, according to the mayor. He pushed for the growth to continue after his term ends.
Dana Spiegel, the President and Executive Director of NYCwireless, a city advocacy group that pushes for more free Wi-Fi access, said the city needs to further step up its game.
"If they don't do more than what they are doing now, then the technology economy in New York City is going to be left to its own devices," Spiegel said.
The consultant predicted that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who didn't return messages for comment, will continue Bloomberg's push. He added that private assistance is crucial when it comes to facilitating further improvements.
Glenn Fuhrman, who funded the Harlem Wi-Fi zone with his wife Amanda, said there is strong interest from investors.
"Many people who I know are New Yorkers and want to make things better for everyone as much as they can,' he said.