Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans on Wednesday to increase high-speed broadband internet service in order to bridge the city’s “digital divide.”
Under the plan, the city is looking to invest $157 million in contracts with telecommunication companies to provide 5G internet access to 600,000 New Yorkers including 200,000 that live in NYCHA housing with a special focus on 33 neighborhoods identified by the city’s Task Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity as being the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
A lack of reliable internet access is one of the city’s existing disparities that has been exacerbated by the pandemic which has become particularly apparent after all 1,800 public schools were forced to shift to remote learning last March which has since left thousands of students struggling to access classes.
The mayor faced scrutiny last year for failing to provide reliable internet access in city homeless shelters, leaving public school children in shelters unable to log on to online classes.
“The digital divide has been a problem for a long time, but now we see just how urgent it is to close that divide,” said de Blasio during a Wednesday press conference. “I’ve said 2021, it’s going to be the year of 5G in New York City. 5G is the future. It’s the fastest, best way to get information around.”
During the press conference, De Blasio added that telecom companies would be allowed to reserve 7,500 light poles to use for 5 G connections. In its open bidding process, the city is encouraging telecom companies to use the efforts of women and minority-owned businesses and to hire from local communities for the broadband expansion project.
“Recovery for all means everyone having the same opportunity to participate,” said de Blasio. “It means everyone having affordable broadband, it means more and more people getting access to the latest, which is 5G, it also means more jobs.”