Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
That goal is part of the mayor's forthcoming "One New York" equity initiative.
Tackling equity gaps has been a key part of Bill de Blasio's agenda as mayor of New York City. On Wednesday, in keeping with this vision, de Blasio will announce a 10-year grand plan towards a more equal and resilient New York. One of the key elements of this "One New York" initiative will be to provide affordable, high-speed broadband access to every resident and business in the city by 2025.
"Technology, like broadband access, is literally like water or electricity was at the turn of the century—you can’t really do any of the things that build opportunity without it," Maya Wiley, counsel to the mayor, tells CityLab. "If we’re going to produce more and better-paying jobs, if we’re going to improve educational outcomes, if we’re going to make sure people can engage with the city effectively … folks have to have the technology and the ability to utilize it.”
The FCC estimates that about 17 percent of all Americans lack broadband access.* And some 10 percent—many of them low-income and minorities—rely on their smartphone to use the Internet because they don't have access at home, according to the Pew Research Center (below). New York City is a great example of this digital divide: 36 percent of households living below the poverty line, and 18 percent of households living above it, don't have Internet access at home.
Online access could really help the residents of the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, for example. The Internet helps kids do their homework and helps their parents search for jobs, communicate with their neighbors about community matters, or navigate the rest of the city, says Jill Eisenhard, director of Red Hook Initiative, a community organization that works with low-income families.
"I think people take for granted how often you’re using Wi-Fi unless you’re in an area that doesn’t have it," says Eisenhard.
To realize de Blasio's 2025 broadband equity vision, the city has already been rolling out some measures. The New York Public Library lets you check out a WiFi connection like it's a book. Last year, the city announced that it will transform old pay phones into free Wi-Fi hotspots, creating a gigabit network called LinkNYC.
Under the guidance of de Blasio's Broadband Task Force, the city will push to expand universal broadband in the next decade. It will also improve, and add to, its 311 service app and government website interfaces, which are being turned into digital “one-stop shops” for New Yorkers, says Jessie Singleton, the city's digital director. The idea is that by the time the city's official 400th anniversary comes around in 2025, New York will already be using technology to empower and engage all its residents.
"This is a physical plan to bring New York City into its fifth century," says Singleton. "We’re working to meet people where they are."
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that 10 percent of Americans lack broadband access; that figure is 17 percent, according to the FCC.