Queensbridge Houses will be first to get free broadband service

By Bill Parry

The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City will be the first of five public housing developments citywide that will receive free high-speed Internet service under a $10-million pilot project, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week.

The more than 7,500 residents of Queensbridge, the largest campus in the nation, will get the wireless broadband access as part of President Obama’s ConnectHome initiative that brings together service providers, non-profits and the private sector.

Residents will also receive technical training, digital literacy programs and devices as part of a U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development project. New York City is one of 27 cities which won HUD’s competition to participate in ConnectHome.

“President Obama has been a tireless leader for universal broadband,” de Blasio said. “Through ConnectHome, my administration will be able to deepen our private partnerships and leverage our public investment in universal, affordable broadband for hardworking New Yorkers who struggle to support their families and desperately need boadband.”

Data from the Center for Economic Opportunity found that 22 percent of New York City households do not have Internet service at home and that 36 percent of city households below the poverty line do not have Internet access at home. Recent data on smartphone use by the Pew Research Center shows that one in five American adults rely on smartphones as their primary source for Internet access. According to Pew, half of all people with no or limited home Internet have had to cancel or suspend their phone service because of financial constraints.

“No child should worry about whether or not she can finish her homework because her family can’t afford broadband at home,” said Maya Wiley, counsel to the mayor. “Every parent should be able to go online to see if their child has completed that homework, no matter the size of their paycheck. Getting high-speed Internet access to low-income New Yorkers is a game changer for families and for the city that needs all our residents to be able to use 21st century technologies to improve their lives and to build their communities.”

Recognizing these challenges, the administration earlier this year committed $70 million in capital investment over the next 10 years for free or low-cost wireless service for low-income communities, officials say. These investments are part of the administration’s aggressive approach expanding broadband access, which recognizes that high-speed Internet is no longer a luxury but a critical service that must be affordable to all city residents.

The service will have speeds of 25 megabits per second and residents who want higher speeds will have to pay for the upgrade. There will be no restrictions on what websites residents can visit, officials say.

“This significant investment provides thousands of Queensbridge residents with free, high-speed broadband service that will enhance our children’s education, increases access to job opportunities and gives a leg up to many families who are struggling to make ends meet,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who represents Queensbridge Houses, said. “Through their leadership, the administration has given countless NYCHA residents the ability to harness an essential 21st century tool that has already begun uplifting and improving the lives of hardworking New Yorkers.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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