The foundation of a digital city is the connectivity of its people. Access is the basis of the Digital Roadmap because ensuring that all New Yorkers are able to connect to the Internet is the first step to realizing New York City’s innovative potential.
Today over 99% of New Yorkers have residential access to high-speed broadband, and building on this reach is critical. Since the introduction of the Digital Roadmap in 2011, over a dozen new initiatives have enhanced Internet infrastructure, increased adoption and expanded coverage—and today New Yorkers are more connected than ever before.
From public Wi-Fi in over 50 parks to subsidized broadband access for hundreds of thousands of low-income residents, Access programs have provided New Yorkers with a host of free options to connect to the Internet, supporting public safety, academic growth, economic development, tourism and community.
The plan starts by focusing on serving historically under-connected communities, and establishing the baseline that every New Yorker has a range of free and low cost means to access the Internet to fulfill professional and personal goals.
Underscoring Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to increasing technology inclusion and reducing the digital divide, the City of New York has helped nearly 300,000 low-income residents access the Internet and adopt service since the introduction of the Digital Roadmap.
A major driver of this accomplishment was the set of high-impact grants provided by the federally funded BTOP program (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program). Programs included Connected Learning, which provides training, discounted broadband, technology curricula and equipment to 23,000 sixth graders and their families for a total impact of over 50,000 residents. The program, which surpassed its initial goal of serving 18,000 sixth graders, hopes to significantly impact the academic and professional trajectory of the selected students by providing them and their households with powerful digital literacy training at a critical age.
In addition, a separate program, Connected Communities, has expanded capacity and infrastructure to serve over 40,000 individuals a week via 100 new or upgraded public technology centers located in public libraries, recreation centers, public housing and community centers. This includes innovative initiatives such as the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Digital Vans program, a program that outfitted mobile technology centers that travel across housing developments in all five boroughs to provide Internet and computer access. To promote services to the public, NYCHA posts schedules online and via Twitter; just over a year since launch, the Digital Vans have served over 4,000 residents. Altogether, Connected Communities computer resources centers benefit approximately 200,000 New Yorkers annually.
Finally, a third program called Connected Foundations, has focused on at-risk youth in danger of failing to complete high school, and has served 4,194 students to date—providing access and digital literacy training to increase professional opportunities post-secondary school.
New York City’s library systems play a vital and ever-growing role in connecting New Yorkers to the information that they seek on the Internet. Altogether, the City’s three library systems have increased the number of computers available to the public by 89% since 2002. The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) offers free Internet access and 1,111 public use computers, including 95 laptops added to its inventory in 2011 using BTOP funding. BPL also offers a 36-computer Tech Loft serving youth up to 16 years of age and computers with free access to costly specialty programs such as Rosetta Stone, Windows Live Movie Maker and Ancestry Library Edition. The New York Public Library offers its members free access to the Internet, online databases, library catalogs and Microsoft Office applications from its 4,026 public-use computers. In 2012, NYPL visitors logged 3,557,162 hours of computer use, and made a total of 441,434 requests for its 1,303 laptops. The Queens Public Library also provides Internet access and 1,706 computers for public use, and through BTOP funding, provides one-on-one training and use of Microsoft Office applications.
These infrastructure achievements are complemented by the expansion of professional development programs that connect hundreds of diverse public school students with technology internships at companies across New York City, detailed in the Industry section of this report.
Building on full-service access to the Internet via hardline connections and public desktop computers, the increased use of mobile devices, tablets and personal laptop computers in New York City has led to exponential public demand for free public Wi-Fi. While blanketing the five boroughs of the City with public Wi-Fi is currently costly and complex, the City of New York has supported the establishment of public-private partnerships. These partnerships represent tens of millions of dollars in investment that expand connectivity to hundreds of thousands at no cost to taxpayers.
Since the announcement of the Digital Roadmap, the City has implemented free public WiFi in over 50 parks, supporting business, tourism and community needs. Of those parks, 26 locations were connected by AT&T and feature unlimited Wi-Fi access for all users. Spurred by the experience of telecommunications needs during Hurricane Sandy, AT&T also recently piloted Street Charge, several solar-powered mobile charging stations that help New Yorkers maintain power, and, thus, connectivity on the go and in emergency scenarios. Cablevision and TimeWarner invested in infrastructure in an additional 32 parks, and allow up to 30 minutes of use per month free of charge for non-customers and $0.99 per day beyond that threshold.
Beyond the parks, the City of New York has partnered with Google to provide free public Wi-Fi in Chelsea, covering an area that serves over 100,000, including over 2,000 residents of the Fulton Houses public housing development, and spanning from 15th Street to 19th Street and 8th Avenue to 10th Avenue.
Free public Wi-Fi networks are also coming to 10 commercial districts in all five boroughs: in Brooklyn along the Fulton Street corridor, BAM Cultural District, Brownsville, and Downtown Brooklyn; in Manhattan in the Flatiron District, along the Water Street Corridor and the East River waterfront in Lower Manhattan, the 125th Street corridor in Harlem and on Roosevelt Island; in Queens in Long Island City; in Staten Island in the St. George commercial district; and in the Bronx on Fordham Road, as well as other areas citywide.
The City of New York has also explored new uses of existing infrastructure to expand Wi-Fi coverage, including the opportunity to breathe new life into public pay telephones by augmenting them with Wi-Fi hotspots available to the public. Through a pilot between payphone franchisees Titan and Van Wagner Communications, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications has launched Wi-Fi hotspots at 13 payphone kiosks, free of charge to the public and accessible at up to a distance of 200 feet.
New York City’s public libraries continue to provide crucial Internet access, including free public Wi-Fi at all branches of the three library systems that serve New York City’s five boroughs: Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library and Queens Library.
Below ground, the expansion of cellular and wireless service in New York City’s subway system is crucial to the safety, productivity and communications needs of New Yorkers. Since the creation of the Digital Roadmap, the MTA and vendor Transit Wireless have begun the expansion plan to bring Wi-Fi and cellular service to all 277 underground stations. In 2011, six stations were connected; today 36 underground subway stations provide access.
Beyond public Internet access, increasing market competition for private Internet service is key to ensuring a range of choices for consumers in New York City. And while the federal government determines the range of approved Internet providers, the City of New York has used its negotiation leverage to ensure that large cable providers expand service to all residential areas.
When the first Digital Roadmap was released in 2011, 60% of residential streets had access to Verizon FiOS. As part of a contract requirement secured by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, today the percentage of residences with street access has increased to 91%, with Verizon on track to serve 100% of residences by the conclusion of 2014. This represents a crucial step in expanding the market and providing more options to consumers in New York City.
Expanded Commercial Fiber Optic Broadband
Finally, as New York City’s technology sector grows and other major industries modernize, the need for high-speed commercial broadband access has never been greater. To speed the deployment of fiber optic cabling, the City of New York has explored innovative new technologies and leveraged contracts with Internet service providers.
One example is the trial of Micro-trenching technology to deploy fiber connectivity in commercial corridors. Micro-trenching is a process of installing small conduits in narrow trenches at sidewalk edges to house fiber optic cabling. It is faster, more efficient and less disruptive than traditional methods of installing infrastructure. In partnership with Verizon, the City approved 14 pilot locations that will run through November 2013.
In addition, Deputy Mayor Robert Steel announced the launch of the ConnectNYC Fiber Challenge, a competition that provides free fiber connectivity installation to businesses, up to a value of $14 million. The contest is in its second round, with over 200 applicants to date, and is described in greater depth in the Industry section.