Residents of Mott Haven Houses and Patterson Houses are among the first in the city to receive free high-speed internet and basic cable TV service through a broadband program being rolled out for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments.
The South Bronx developments were chosen as two of the seven pilot sites for ‘Big Apple Connect,’ a plan Mayor Eric Adams says will provide services to approximately 300,000 New Yorkers living in more than 200 NYCHA developments by the end of 2023. This program is funded by the City of New York and is estimated to cost $30 per household per month, according to Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser.
The pilots started in July at Mott Haven Houses and in September at Patterson Houses. Adams and Fraser announced the city-wide launch of ‘Big Apple Connect’ at a press conference on Sept. 19. So far, 74% of households from Mott Haven Houses and 70% from Patterson Houses have enrolled in the program, according to Kayla Mamelak, deputy press secretary for the mayor.
“We categorize success by people having to pay less for something that we see as a necessity,” said Mamelak.
The pandemic exacerbated the digital divide in New York City, as individuals were forced to work and learn from home. To bridge the divide, city, state, and national officials began thinking of ways to provide these services at low- to no-cost for those who can’t afford to pay standard rates.
‘Big Apple Connect’ was advertised to the pilot sites during several NYCHA “Family Days.” Mamelak said Mott Haven Houses and Patterson Houses were selected as pilots because they were already set up with Optimum and Spectrum, with whom the city already has contracts. Existing Optimum and Spectrum NYCHA customers will be automatically enrolled in the free program and their bills could be reduced to as low as $0, according to the mayor’s office.
For Mott Haven Houses residents like Laquana Ruiz, the program was a welcome development. Ruiz, a 30-year-old mother of two, said that prior to signing up for ‘Big Apple Connect’ last month, she did not have wifi or cable TV. This was especially challenging for her son, now in seventh grade, who needed wifi to complete homework assignments during COVID.
Ruiz and her son often had to rely on friends and neighbors for wifi. “Now we got our own wifi so it’s like wow, amazing,” she said.
“Some of my neighbors when they heard about it, they were really happy and excited because it’s like, ‘Okay I get a little bit of TV, I get a little bit of wifi,’ and they’re able to reach out to their loved ones,” she added.
It’s been about a month since her new wifi and cable were installed, and Ruiz says both are running well so far.
Mcgarrett Fowler, another Mott Haven Houses resident, said that for him, the results have been mixed. Fowler, who had an Optimum plan before he signed up for ‘Big Apple Connect,’ said his last two bills were approximately $80 less than what he was paying before.
However, while the bill is better, the connectivity is now worse, he said. “Service was never amazing; however, I never had this many blackouts,” said Fowler, whose telephone screen will now sometimes go blue and say “no signal” for several minutes.
Other residents say that while the plan is advertised as free, any add-ons cost extra. This means perhaps limited options when it comes to cable TV channels.
‘Big Apple Connect’ comes on the heels of The Internet Master Plan former Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in January 2020 to help city residents without internet access. The plan was put on pause in May 2022 and is being re-evaluated, according to Fraser.
NYCHA residents can sign up for ‘Big Apple Connect’ through either Optimum or Spectrum, depending on where they live. To learn more about how to sign up with Optimum, visit: https://www.optimum.com/big-apple-connect.