Op-ed | Ensuring 21st century technology resources for New York’s 21st century students

Granddaughter With Grandmother Sitting On Sofa At Home Using Digital Tablet
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The Adams Administration is seven months into office but inherited enormous challenges, from getting the City up and running again as the COVID pandemic became endemic to rising crime and gun violence.

Critical to getting the City back on its feet, and generating economic growth, is utilizing technology to address inequities in remote learning and work-at-home options. The NAACP New York State Conference is aligned with the Mayor’s mission to eliminate these inequities that too often plague New York City’s education system, particularly in low-income communities.

Technology access is key in addressing these problems and the Mayor is smart to reevaluate the policies of the last Administration’s Internet Master Plan that presented significant obstacles in addressing these challenges.

Early signs are positive as the Mayor took decisive action to restructure the City’s technology hierarchy to create clearer lines of authority. This was a much needed change given the rapid departure of several of the City’s previous Chief Technology Officers whose authority in relation to the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications and agency CTOs was often murky. We look forward to seeing this Administration continue its effort to improving technology access which can serve as one of the great equalizers to level the playing field.

Government entering the broadband business directly has an abysmal record of failure in a fast changing industry that requires innovation and constant investment to keep pace. Any government employee can testify to the outdated legacy technology systems housed in city agencies that would cause a resident to rightfully question whether city government alone could keep up with the network advances involving fiber, satellite and 5G.

The previous Administration supported taxpayers funding the building of a government internet network in its Internet Master Plan. This Administration is right to be skeptical about the utility of such approach. Instead, the Mayor and his Administration are carefully reviewing the best ways to leverage private sector investment to advance the goal of making sure every New Yorker has an opportunity to fully utilize the internet in an era where digital access is so vital to education, healthcare and earning a living.

At the federal level, the Biden Infrastructure bill, for example established the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which large and small internet providers alike are participating in. It provides a $30 discount off internet service for low-income New Yorkers through the Internet Service Provider from which they receive service. The leading providers in the City – including Optimum, Spectrum and Verizon – are all participating and providing low cost services in conjunction with the ACP.

This makes internet effectively free for low-income New Yorkers who are making 200% of the federal poverty line or less, receiving Medicaid, living in public housing, or are on other government programs for the disadvantaged. Notably, the ACP is already in effect with over 875,000 New York households enrolled in just a few months, and service provided by experienced companies at no cost to City government. These public-private partnerships can serve as a model for addressing technological inequities.

We need 21st century resources for our 21st century students and crucial partnerships like these will make sure New York City’s Public School students will receive the technology and support they need to maximize pupil engagement and give educators advanced and powerful tools to help students succeed and thrive.

Dr. Hazel N. Dukes is President of the NAACP New York State Conference.