digital divide

City Announces Agreement With Verizon in Effort to Close Digital Divide Among NYers

The agreement will require the telecommunications giant to build out its Fios footprint to reach an additional 500,000 households.

NBC Universal, Inc.

What to Know

  • With more and more people working from home and students learning remotely due to the pandemic, it has become evident that there is a great digital divide throughout various communities, including in New York City, where many do not have internet and if they do, they lack a reliable connection.
  • While it may seem like a new problem in the age of COVID-19, the digital disparity among communities goes back years. However, on Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that after years, the city and Verizon came to an agreement that will require the telecommunications giant to build out its Fios footprint to reach an additional 500,000 households.
  • The agreement will prioritize least-connected communities

With more and more people working from home and students learning remotely due to the pandemic, it has become evident that there is a great digital divide throughout various communities, including in New York City, where many do not have internet and if they do, they lack a reliable connection.

While it may seem like a new problem in the age of COVID-19, the digital disparity among communities goes back years. However, on Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that after years, the city and Verizon came to an agreement that will require the telecommunications giant to build out its Fios footprint to reach an additional 500,000 households, with a priority on the least-connected communities.

"After a lot of work by many city agencies, we’ve come to an agreement that is going to require Verizon to build out its Fios footprint to reach now an additional 500,000 households here in New York City," de Blasio said. "This is going to be a requirement of this agreement…a priority will be put on the communities that have been most underserved and there is a specific guarantee that each building and public housing, every NYCHA building, will be reached with this service as part of this Fios footprint."

Corporation Counsel for the City of New York Jim Johnson said that proceedings against Verizon began in 2014 because the company "had failed to meet the terms of its cable franchise agreement that had been inked during the Bloomberg administration. And the goal of that was to build out its network. But the City's goal is to make sure that the digital divide is shut down, closed. And so, we brought this case and we now have resolved it so that more New Yorkers will have access to this vital tool."

Johnson said the resolution between both parties "could not be more timely" given that the ongoing health crisis "has only underscored how critical this need is. It's needed for us to draw close together with family members, it's needed for children to study."

According to Johnson, the neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19 will have the most to gain from the announced settlement. These communities, Johnson said, have low, median household incomes and the fewest options, sometimes no options for affordable broadband.

"At a minimum Verizon will make connections available to 125,000 additional households in those community districts, just in those community districts," Johnson said. "And more importantly, overall, the settlement ensures that a half-a-million households that previously lacked Verizon broadband access because of their corporate failure to invest in the infrastructure, they'll now have the option of fiber broadband."

Johnson also noted that the settlement also ensures transparency, with terms calling for Verizon to report on a quarterly basis on its progress. Additionally, the city plans to make public the list of newly eligible households so people will know when services come to their part of their community.

In a statement to NBC 4 New York, Verizon spokesman Rich Young said: "We're grateful for the opportunity to bring Verizon Fios service to an additional 500,000 New York City consumers. Currently about 2.5 million NYC homes and businesses benefit from all that Fios has to offer.This agreement builds upon Verizon's base, and will make this premier broadband service available to even more consumers."

"We’ve had a digital divide," the mayor said. "We’ve had huge disparity of who gets access to the internet, who doesn’t. Who gets reliable, fast, broadband service, who doesn’t. Who can afford it. Who can't. But more and more we understand that we have to create a society where everyone has equal access."

De Blasio went on to say that "it has taken a lot of work and there has been some real struggle here and some real challenges. But we’ve gotten to a point where something real and tangible is going to happen for people, particularly for working people and folks who have been left out."

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