NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City launched "Big Apple Connect" on Monday, bringing free high-speed internet to NYCHA residents in what is the nation's largest free municipal broadband program.
Mayor Eric Adams and Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser announced the citywide launch after a successful pilot program.
The landmark digital equity program will make free high-speed internet and basic cable TV available to approximately 300,000 New Yorkers living in more than 200 NYCHA developments by the end of 2023.
The program was initially piloted at eight public housing developments across the five boroughs, including at NYCHA's Langston Hughes Houses in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where officials made the announcement.
It has now been expanded to more than 100 developments.
Since the pilot's debut last month at Langston Hughes, more than 200 existing customers of Optimum have been automatically converted and 120 new subscribers have been added.
Nearly 350 Langston Hughes units - or approximately two-thirds of households at the development - are already enrolled in Big Apple Connect.
"A 21st-century city like New York deserves 21st-century infrastructure, and, today, we continue our quest to bridge the digital divide with the landmark rollout of Big Apple Connect," Adams said. "For too long, lower-income communities, immigrant communities, and communities of color have been ignored when it comes to accessing the critical digital tools to help them succeed."
Big Apple Connect will provide residents of NYCHA developments a free bundle that consists of in-home, high-speed internet connection, including a modem and router; basic cable TV service, including a cable box and remote control; and common area Wi-Fi hotspots, selected in consultation with NYCHA.
After requesting proposals earlier this year from existing New York City cable TV franchisees, the city entered into three-year agreements with Altice (Optimum) and Charter (Spectrum), which will collectively cover the majority of developments owned and managed by NYCHA. The city is continuing to negotiate with Verizon as a possible third franchisee. OTI will be billed directly for all residents enrolled in 'Big Apple Connect' for the three-year term.
"Broadband is no longer a luxury, but a necessity that all New Yorkers should have access to," Adams said. "That's why by the end of next year, more than 200 NYCHA developments will have access to the free high-speed internet and cable TV, giving approximately 300,000 New Yorkers access to the essential tools to live productive lives. Something as simple as providing free, accessible Wi-Fi can change the life of a New Yorker, and Big Apple Connect will link our city to the future."
NYCHA residents will not be billed anything for these services, and existing customers of Optimum and Spectrum living in NYCHA developments where Big Apple Connect is active will be automatically enrolled in the program and will only be billed for additional services they choose to purchase directly.
Residents will receive email notifications and mailers explaining why their bills were lowered, as well as information on Big Apple Connect.
Residents without existing service will have the opportunity to sign up directly though Spectrum or Optimum or may attend on-site enrollment events conducted by the companies in partnership with the NYC Office of Technology and Innovation.
An estimated 30-40% of NYCHA residents lack broadband, according to cable service providers.
Once its rollout is complete, Big Apple Connect is projected to be the largest municipal program to cover the cost of internet for public housing residents in the nation.
NYCHA residents enrolled in Big Apple Connect will also be able to use the federal Affordable Connectivity Program benefit to save money on their cell phone bills. The Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet or cellular data service for eligible households and is limited to one monthly service discount per month.
In addition to the Langston Hughes Houses in Brooklyn, the other pilot sites in the five boroughs included:
--Bronx: Mott Haven Houses
--Bronx: Patterson Houses
--Brooklyn: Brownsville Houses
--Manhattan: Polo Grounds Towers
--Queens: Queensbridge Houses
--Queens: Woodside Houses
--Staten Island: Stapleton Houses
Information about current and future eligible NYCHA sites will be available on OTI's Big Apple Connect website.
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