Unfortunately, an estimated 2.5 million New York City residents do not have access to Internet in their homes. At a monthly average of $60, the cost of Internet service at home can be too expensive to bear, especially for the nearly half of New Yorkers living in poverty.
Without easy access to broadband, families are deprived of the ability to fully participate in the everyday aspects of contemporary life. With the mass digitization of information, the lack of access to resources – for health care, commercial services, educational and job opportunities – will become more pressing for New Yorkers.
The de Blasio administration has put forward a bold plan to begin to address this digital divide, while also serving as a catalyst for local economic development. As a public payphone of the future, LinkNYC is a first-of-its-kind communications network that will provide free 24/7 public Wi-Fi, free phone calls, access to city services, including 911 and 311, and digital public service announcements.
What’s more, the network would be built at no cost to taxpayers and would generate a minimum of $500 million in revenue for the city over the next 12 years.
If approved, the roll-out of LinkNYC structures could bring free phone calls and the fastest available wi-fi to Queens residents as early as 2015.
In Queens, there are currently 1,083 existing payphone structures. Just five of these phones currently offer free wi-fi. Under the LinkNYC proposal, the number of structures in Queens would increase at minimum by 14 percent (to 1,239 total) – all with free wi-fi, offering minimum speeds that are twice as fast as what New Yorkers receive at home.
As time goes on, the network could expand even further with all new additional locations to be recommended by the borough presidents, City Council members, community boards, business improvement districts, and the community at large.
The possibilities are endless. Imagine the impact if Vernon Avenue in Long Island City was lined with new LinkNYC structures offering free gigabit speed Internet. What kind of new businesses could we attract?
If we blanketed key commercial corridors with seamless free Internet, could Queens become the new hub for the Internet of Things and state-of-the-art sensor technologies? How could this shape the identity and future of Queens?
The benefits of LinkNYC don’t stop there. Links could be built right here in Queens, a borough renown for being a large manufacturing center, dating back to its reputation as one of the first auto manufacturing plants in the nation.
CityBridge, the consortium behind the proposal, has committed to establishing a facility for local production in New York City and is looking for potential sites. By locating its operations here, LinkNYC can provide a boon to the local economy while providing residents with jobs.
In total, LinkNYC will create 100 to 150 full-time, new local jobs in manufacturing, technology and advertising, plus an estimated 650 support jobs for New Yorkers.
Mayor de Blasio has pledged to make New York City the most tech-friendly and innovative city in the world, and Queens is ready to be a model for an innovative technology ecosystem that includes all of our citizens and communities.
We need to identify innovative solutions to make tech accessible to all and making our city economically competitive. Let’s start by approving the LinkNYC plan to build the world’s largest and fastest municipal wi-fi network so that we can create even more opportunities to access information and knowledge.
Jukay Hsu is the founder of Coalition for Queens (C4Q).