High-Speed Internet will be Discontinued in One Million Homes in NYC

Just under a million low-income families in New York City may lose access to high-speed internet due to the impending expiration of a significant government program, according to a recent report.

Before the federal Affordable Connectivity Program ran out of funding in April, over a million New Yorkers registered for it, according to data supplied with Gothamist by the Center for an Urban Future. For consumers that met the income requirements, the program gave internet service providers like Verizon, Spectrum, and Optimum a monthly credit.

Although acquiring an education and overcoming poverty are considered to be made possible by broadband connection, many people who need it most cannot afford it. The pandemic exposed disparities in internet access, and the city’s school system hurried to get 1 million pupils online at home—a disorganized endeavor from which students are still recuperating. In 2021, around 25% of the approximately 8.5 million households in New York City did not have internet access, and nearly 50% of the city’s poorest residents did not have broadband.

According to a recent survey, Long Island City, which is home to the biggest public housing complex in the nation, and East Harlem, a huge portion of the South Bronx, were the areas where the federal subsidy program was most popular.

Data gathered by the City Council indicates that prior to the program’s commencement in 2021, East Harlem and the South Bronx had some of the lowest rates of internet connectivity in the entire city. Under the federal initiative, cheap internet was provided to almost two-thirds of the homes in East Harlem and the South Bronx. The program enrolled about 44% of all families in the Bronx.

Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director of the Center for an Urban Future, warned that around the end of May, people would suddenly lose vital connectivity.

According to Dvorkin, “The reality is that for those nearly 1 million households, if they want to preserve their high-speed internet service, they’re going to have to dig deeper into their own pockets,” “That’s going to be really tough.”

The termination of federal financing is drawing attention to New York City’s own stagnant initiatives to increase low-income people’ access to the internet; these initiatives were mocked as redundant during the unstable national credit period.

The most recent housing survey conducted in the city found that 90% of New Yorkers with annual incomes under $25,000 spend at least half of it on rent. According to a 2023 study from the United Way of New York City, half of all households in the city are unable to pay for necessities without aid.

According to Dvorkin, many households receiving the subsidy would probably decide not to use the internet once their bills start to rise.

He said that the program’s expiration will have a negative impact on the city’s economy generally by lowering the number of candidates for jobs, harming children and college students who depend on internet connection for academic purposes, and making it more difficult for individuals to obtain benefits.

According to Dvorkin, “high-speed internet is the gateway to practically every opportunity that exists out there today.” “It would be a real detriment to New Yorkers in general and to New York City’s opportunity agenda if we lose that access.”

Legislators from both parties, such as Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance and Brooklyn Democrat Rep. Yvette Clarke, are urging Congress to reinstate financing for the program by highlighting its advantages for both rural and urban areas.

In a statement released in March, Clarke stated, “The ACP truly represents one of our best tools to close the digital divide.”

Internet service providers will either terminate internet service for clients who are unable to pay after funding expires or provide a reduced cost.

Speaking on behalf of Optimum’s parent company Altice, Erin Smyth stated that the internet service provider offers a $15 monthly plan for New Yorkers who receive other forms of financial assistance. Additionally, Caroline Brooks, a Verizon spokesperson, stated that the company will continue to provide discounted internet access for certain low-income customers.

Customers are urged to “urge the government to take action” and are informed on the Spectrum website that their bills will increase once their credit expires. Don Kaplan, a spokesman for the company, said the company is also providing a $30 discount on a mobile line and pointing customers to other programs they might be eligible for.

Mayor Eric Adams’ $90 million Big Apple Connect program provides free internet to almost 330,000 tenants of NYCHA apartments. According to Ray Legendre, a spokesman for the City’s Office of Technology and Innovation, which oversees the program, their access won’t be impacted by the federal program’s termination.

Legendre continued, saying that the government program has to be extended and that those in New York who are not enrolled in Big Apple Connect can inquire about possible reductions from their internet service providers.

Though many households were able to use one subsidy for their broadband and the other for their mobile device, several lawmakers questioned Big Apple Connect when it was first introduced for being redundant with the government aid program already in place. It lacks long-term support as well, but it will probably outlast the federal program. With a possible extension to 2027, the contract’s expiration date is planned for 2025.

The Adams administration abandoned a larger initiative to provide free or inexpensive internet access throughout the city at the end of 2022.

The Internet Master Plan, created by former Mayor Bill de Blasio, called for municipally owned broadband infrastructure to be built out by small local firms; according to the plan’s architects, this would have provided more than a million New Yorkers with high-speed internet access at no cost or at a reduced cost.