Free Wi-Fi in NYC? Public Advocate Calls for Free Internet in NYCHA, Homeless Shelters and City Parks

October 29, 2014 2:53 pm Last Updated: October 29, 2014 3:49 pm

NEW YORK—A group of city and state elected officials urged the state’s Public Service Commission, in a letter, to require that Comcast commit to universal broadband in New York City before it approves the cable giant’s $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable (TWC). 

The merger is currently undergoing review by federal agencies, but the state commission is also authorized to block changes in the ownership of cable companies if they don’t meet public interest standards. 

The letter demands that Comcast provide free broadband Internet access in the city’s public housing complexes, community centers, and homeless and domestic violence shelters as well as free Wi-Fi in public parks. 

“The single unemployed mother spending money she doesn’t have on broadband just so she can apply for jobs, the elderly who must sit outside, in a library, or in a park in the cold of winter just to communicate with loved ones,” said City Council member Ben Kallos, a signatory of the letter. “Every New Yorker must have the opportunity to access the world-knowledge on the Internet.” 

The officials also asked that Comcast improve broadband infrastructure so that New York City would have access to a 1 Gigabit network connection. 

“The average Internet speed in New York City is half that in European and Asian countries…New York should not be behind Kansas, we should not be behind Chattanooga, Tennessee,” Public Advocate Letitia James said. “New York must lead.” 

“We need our city to remain competitive in the 21st century and our economy to diversify with more technological companies setting up in New York,” she continued. 

The letter also asked that Comcast upgrade Time Warner Cable’s “Everyday Low Price” Internet plan to offer cash-strapped consumers at least 5/1 megabits in download/upload speeds for $9.95 per month in lieu of the price of $14.99 for 2/1 megabits. 

This would be an extension of the $10 per month Internet package for low-income families that Comcast introduced in 2011 to secure its purchase of NBCUniversal. 

James called high-speed broadband “not a luxury, but a necessity,” and that given the size of the merger, Comcast would be more than capable of finding the funds to meet the officials’ demands. 

“We must not underestimate the business advantages this proposal creates but rather ensure that its impact includes additional resources for the progress of our constituency,” said Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs, Councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Donovan Richards.

The Public Service Commission is scheduled to vote on the Comcast-TWC merger on November 13.