Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Announces up to $10 Million Investment in Free Broadband Service for Five NYCHA Developments

July 16, 2015

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Okay, let’s do this right, people. It’s so good to be in the Bronx today!

[Applause]

We’re going to attribute it to the early hour, Secretary.

[Laughter]

We’re going to hand out some café con leche, or something, to get people going next time, or –

[Laughter]

Thank you very much. Thank you, Shola, for your tremendous leadership, and for helping to make the Housing Authority stronger every day.

Mr. Secretary, I want to thank you – and I want to thank the president – for recognizing that in today’s day and age, broadband access is foundational to participation in our society, foundational to economic opportunity and educational opportunity.

It took us a while as a nation to catch up with that reality. We’re still grappling with the inequalities we face. So many of us are trying to address income inequality, in particular. But we can’t do it if we don’t guarantee broadband access. And this administration in Washington is not only recognizing that fact, but trying to fundamentally change the reality through efforts like this.

Now, Mr. Secretary, I’m always appreciative of the fact that you understand people’s lives. You understand it for so many reason, but one of the great reasons is you were a mayor. And you understood what it was like to serve people at the front line.

By the way, when it comes to Secretary Castro’s commitment to children, I just want to say – and I say this humbly – what he did on pre-k is one of the reasons for what we did here in New York City on pre-k – and let’s thank him for that.

[Applause]

So, you showed us in San Antonio that we could reach our young people in new ways. And this fundamental effort that you and the president are leading, to make sure that young people are not left out of educational and economic opportunities – this is a game changer. ConnectHome is a game changer, in particular, for over 200,000 children that will be reached. And their lives will be fundamentally different.

And we’ve found this with our pre-k effort, and we’ve found this with our broadband access efforts. You literally can see how the trajectory of a child’s life changes before your very eyes, and what it means for an entire family. That’s extraordinary. That’s what we come here to do in public service – to know that because of a change that we made, a child who couldn’t have gone as far is now going farther. A family that wouldn’t have had opportunity now has it. And this is a way of doing it very, very profoundly.

But we know, also, a success has many fathers and mothers. And what the president is doing, and the secretary is doing, is to bring together everyone we need for this success. It’s the federal government, it’s local governments, it’s nonprofits, it’s the business sector – we all have to get this right. No one of us could possibly do this alone – we all have to get it right. But it won’t work without federal leadership. And we’re getting that today.

We know that the federal demand of us is to go as far as we can go. Secretary Castro has told me that he knows he will do everything he can do, and he’ll bring me every partner he can find. But we’ve got to step up and do all we can do. And that’s why we are proud to acknowledge that leadership, and follow that leadership, by making actual investments here locally. 

The $10 million dollar investment that we are making in free, high-speed Internet access in NYCHA developments across the city is part of that commitment, is part of building out a city where there is truly broadband access for all.

That’s going to be here, at Mott Haven Houses, where 2,500 residents will be connected to Internet at no cost – for free.

[Applause]

Mr. Secretary, did I mention it’s free?

[Laughter]

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro: [inaudible] sounds good.

Mayor: You like that? I’m going to tell you, there was one – I just have to do a little vignette, but you’ll appreciate it deeply. We were starting the first year of our pre-k effort, and trying to get the word across. And, you know, some people forgot to say the “free” part. And I kept saying, people, you’ve got to say it’s free – it’s very important to people. I went to one pre-k center in Queens – in Southeast Queens – and we walked up to the center, and they had, like, a glass front window of their – of their building, and they said, full day of pre-k. And it – the word “free” was in every part of the window. They had put the word free in every possible angle, and all –

[Laughter]

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro: So they got your message.

Mayor: Yeah, they got my message. So, Internet access for free – not only here, at Mott Haven Houses –at Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in North America; at Red Hook Houses. This is going to be a game changer – I know you like that.

[Applause]

This effort’s going to reach over 16,000 people – obviously, with a particular interest on our young people, a particular focus on our young people. And it’s part of our overall goal – which, again, we’re getting a lot of support and a lot of good push from the federal government on – that we will have affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access for all New Yorkers – all New Yorkers – by 2025. And that’s part of our One New York City plan that we believe in deeply.

I want to say – the emphasis, the energy we’re bringing to this – federal leadership matters immensely. It is all about the fundamental goals of this administration, but it also helps to have leaders in this administration who everyday are pushing this agenda relentlessly and creatively.

I want to thank my counsel, Maya Wiley, for her great leadership. Let’s give her a round of applause.

[Applause]

Our Commissioner for IT could not be here today, but Anne Roest has been a tremendous partner in making this happen. We’ve had great support – not only on the federal level, not only from the secretary – but I also want to thank Holly Leicht for her great support as our regional administrator. Thank you, Holly.

[Applause]

And then, we’ve had our Broadband Taskforce, which, you know – any good taskforce both informs and enlightens, and then pushes and demands that we go farther. And the Broadband Taskforce has done that. They’ve helped us tremendously in developing our strategy. And we have with us one of the energetic members of that taskforce, well-known here in the Bronx, Majora Carter. Thank you so much for your efforts.

[Applause]

So look, just to say this quickly, I think everyone’s hearing what we believe in and why we believe in it. But let’s just look at some cold, hard facts for a moment.

In this city – in this city, where we deal with inequality in so many forms, one in five households has no Internet access. No Internet access at all – talk about a tale of two cities. If 80 percent of the people are fully connected to the global economy and every form of information, then 20 percent are not. That is an inequality we don’t accept.

And we know that that directly connects to economic reality, because that proportion changes if you talk about our poorest families. Then the number gets much worse.

One in three – almost 33 percent – of our poorest families do not have Internet access. And that means that all the things that go with that access are not available. And then you’d say, well, why don’t they invest in that? Isn’t that a good choice? Yeah, it’s a great choice – except that choice has to be made against rent, against food, against medicine. And people have to make those tough choices, and there’s just not enough to go around.

And I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – 46 percent – Mr. Secretary, I wish I didn’t have to quote this – 46 percent of all New Yorkers at or near the poverty level. 46 percent of New Yorkers at 150 percent of the poverty level or lower. You can tell what that means for so many people. Those choices, those basic choices, mean that a lot of times, as much as they understand how much Internet access would help them, it’s just out of reach.

Let me give you one quick example. The secretary told you a powerful story – let me tell you the story of Nifitia Hazzard. Is Nifitia here with us today? Maybe not. Okay.

But she lives here in Mott Haven Houses, and she is living an example of these choices that a family has to make. She works two part-time jobs to support her family. Her son, Adonis, a 7th grader at South Bronx Prep, very active – there here you go, okay – very active in their Computers for Youth Program.

Now, her son’s learning through the Internet. He was given a laptop through the program and the family signed up for Wi-Fi service. So, so far, you’re thinking this is a good news story – working family got a laptop, son’s learning, signed up for Wi-Fi. But here’s where the plot thickens.

Adonis developed a chronic illness back in February and Nifitia has to make a choice. She paid $50 dollars a month for the Internet service, but now she had to pay additional medical expenses – and the two didn’t go together. She couldn’t afford both.

So, she quickly ascertained – exactly as the story the secretary talked about – that without the Internet her son started to miss on homework, and he started to have less opportunity. And he was frustrated in his own desire to learn. But Nifitia needed the money to provide for the medical help her son needed. 

That’s the kind of catch twenty-two that families all over the city – all over this country – are constantly confronting. And that’s why we appreciate President Obama’s leadership and Secretary Castro’s leadership so much – because they’re recognizing that that’s happening every hour of every day, all over this country.

I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, because this is the kind of thing that really will change that reality for families. One piece of their lives will finally be secure. They’ll have Internet access and all that goes with it.

And we’re going to go with every tool we have. We’re going to keep going toward that goal – reaching toward that goal of a truly connected city. If LinkNYC, which will be the world’s largest and fastest municipal Wi-Fi network – that’s the proposal you heard about – our initiative we started a few months ago. It’s very exciting. It’s going to bring Internet access to so many people. Our libraries are piloting the first of its kind hotspot device lending – which we’re very, very excited about. Thank you, Tony Marx, from the New York Public Library, for being here.

We’re pushing all the buttons, but it is so helpful to have federal leadership and a federal partner pushing us and supporting us and bringing us partners every step of the way.

If you’ll indulge me, Secretary, a few sentences in Spanish – or you could read them for me better than me.

[Laughter]

I might call it a pinch hitter. Thanks a lot, pal.  

[Laughter]

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

With that, again, thank you, Mr. Secretary. Alright.

[Applause]

[…]

Mayor: Alright, we’re going to take on-topic questions – on-topic questions. Yes?

Question: I’m wondering, will the program impose any use or data [inaudible] restrictions on the websites people will visit, or the amount of data they can consume?

Mayor: Damn good question.

[Laughter]

Maya?

I think – hold it. I need legal help. Let me get my counsel.

Maya Wiley: There will be full privacy protections. And we are looking – since this is a demonstration project for these five developments, we’re going to be using that demonstration to be figuring out with residents how best to structure the service.

Question: [inaudible]

Maya Wiley: We’re – in the demonstration project, we’ll determine – obviously, parents will want to make sure they have parental controls. That will exist because you’ll always have parental controls as any user does through the devices that they’re using. So, of course, parents will be able to limit what websites their children may access. But otherwise, the intent is for people to be able to use the internet just like anyone who can afford to pay to use the internet.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: What, did you all get together and come up with a good question set? What is this?

[Laughter]

This is like – okay, very good question.

[Laughter]

Maya Wiley: The service that people will get will be broadband speeds – high internet speeds at 25 megabits per second. Everyone in the [inaudible] units – every single resident will have the opportunity to use this service. If they want faster speeds, they have the option of paying for faster speeds. So, it will be, as any good –

Mayor: Through a regular private provider.

Maya Wiley: Through a regular private provider. So, it doesn’t displace any private provision. It introduces what the mayor committed to, which was competition. We want residents, though, to be able to have minimum broadband speeds – 25 megabits is pretty fast, but as you know private providers can offer 50 megabits, 100 megabits. So, that will be something that residents will be able to choose from.

Question: [Inaudible]

Maya Wiley: Anyone can access it. And I should add – because I think this is also important for the mayor’s mission – that if you are on the streets – if you’re in the public corridors around any of the developments, and you’re just walking down the street and you don’t live there, you’ll still be able to access the signal.

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro: So, let me just say – for our part as well, on these questions. Two things – first of all, that we’re going to have a convening of all of the partners – public sector, private sector, non-profit sector – in three weeks, essentially to go through the details in each of the communities. But the second thing is, as I mentioned in my remarks, that we’re really looking for these to be locally tailored plans. So, as you can see, New York has already put a lot of thought into the rollout of their own plan, and we look forward to working with them to synchronize.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Louder please?

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Shola?

NYCHA Chair & Chief Executive Shola Olatoye: About half of our residents we know do have access, in terms of actual access in their apartments. We’ve been surprised in our own data that most residents do have access via a personal device. I think what this effort does is actually bring it to be a household-based opportunity. And so – but again, we know that half of our residents do have access and this effort seeks to address – make sure that the other half has access.

Mayor: [inaudible] Media? We’re doing media questions. Yes?

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: You start. I think – you outrank us. Go first.

[…]

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro: I want to clarify – for ConnectHome here in New York City that it’s Sprint. So, I don’t know if [inaudible].

Maya Wiley: And Sprint actually has been an important partner to our library systems in the wireless hotspot lending programs. So, we’re looking forward to working with Sprint and finding ways to expand that access.

Question: [inaudible]

Maya Wiley: So, the corporate sponsors are creating a contribution. So, it will be an [inaudible] contribution. The city is making a substantial investment in the actual broadband infrastructure – bringing the free wireless service to NYCHA residents.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: They hate when people do that. You have got to get to the microphone so they can all here it perfectly.

[Laughter]

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro: Overall, for the 28 communities, the partners are making a $70 million dollar commitment. And we’d be glad to follow up with you in terms of evaluation for that for New York City.

Mayor: On-topic? Yes?

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: [inaudible] Okay, that’s the question. Go ahead – or Shola – who’s got it?

Maya Wiley: So, its wireless access – all wireless service has wire.

[Laughter]

So it’s a little – but its – each individual home, we will be running cable. Each individual unit will have wireless access in the unit as well as in the public spaces of the developments.

Mayor: Okay, now I’m a little confused. Yeah, hold on. Let’s do this – because when you say running cables – do it one more time just to clarify.

Maya Wiley: Yeah. I mean, obviously, there are the issues – and this is one of the reasons we’re very excited about the contribution of the federal government – people will still need devices by which they pick up the signal, right? So we’ll be providing the signal – folks have smartphones, folks have computers – they will then just be able to log on to the system because it will be wireless and freely available. Computers for Youth is a great example – it’s already partnering with Department of Education on providing devices. And we’ll be looking forward to opportunities to get more devices to families.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: You first, and then we’ll follow on.

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro: There are partners that are part of ConnectHome that are contributing resources for devices. And at the convening that we have in three weeks, we’ll discuss that part further.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Excellent. All about news you can use.

Maya Wiley: So, Queensbridge will be the first that will actually have it when the contracts are in place, which we hope will be by the end of the year. They’ll start to come online – it will be in total about a 15 month process.

Mayor: When will it start? [Inaudible] the first people get it?

Mayor Wiley: The first – well, I can’t answer that until – I can’t answer that until we go through the contract process, but it will be a rolling process. So, we hope by 2016, Queenbridge Houses – definitely – residents will start being able to access service.

[…]

Mayor: Okay. Thanks, everyone.

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