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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Announces Public Launch of LinkNYC Program, Largest and Fastest Free Municipal Wi-Fi Network in the World

February 18, 2016

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Okay, good afternoon, everyone. Well, you just witnessed some live history in the making. There is nothing more exciting than a live first-time demonstration out on the tightrope, on the edge, but it works. It worked beautifully. I just want to thank our wonderful 3-1-1 operator who got everything exactly right. I knew the answer to the question in advance so we were testing the 3-1-1 accuracy and she came through with flying colors.

So that was the first official phone call from one of our state-of-the-art LinkNYC kiosks. It’s an exciting moment for New Yorkers because it means a lot more access to things they care about deeply, and a lot more ability to access information, and to make life easier and more convenient in this city. We’ll eventually build and activate at least 7,500 kiosks just like this all over the five boroughs – the network we are calling LinkNYC. And LinkNYC will be the Wi-Fi network New York City deserves. It will be the biggest and fastest network in the world – and completely free of charge. And one thing I know about my fellow New Yorkers – they like things that are completely free of charge. So this is going to be very popular. With this effort we’re moving much closer to becoming the most innovative, most accessible, most tech-friendly city anywhere in the nation and anywhere in the world.

I want to thank the people who have led the way on this effort. You’re going to hear from Gale Brewer in a moment. You’re going to hear from one of the people that helped make this specific kiosk work and this whole effort work through their company, but I want you to first know that so much work went into this from the city government side. I want to thank my Counsel, Maya Wiley, who has led the way on all our efforts to create a truly accessible and inclusive city through technology. I want to thank our DoITT Commissioner, Anne Roest, who has been extraordinary at using all the capacity of government to make sure that new opportunities like this are available for the people of our city; our Chief Technology Officer Minerva Tantoco, who has worked with the whole tech sector to bring us closer to the tech sector and to innovate together; and someone who has been working with me all the way back to when I was Public Advocate and now he is the Director of Innovation at the Mayor’s Office – Jeff Merritt, I want to thank you for having sparked so much of this thinking early on and all we’ve been doing. I also want to welcome and thank Jennifer Falk of the Union Square BID.

Now, it’s 2016. In 2016 internet access is not a luxury. It’s not something optional. It’s something everybody needs and if we’re going to have fairness, we have to make sure that there is equality of access to the internet. The web is where our kids do the research they need to do for school, it’s where parents look for jobs, it’s where people access services and benefits that they deserve. It’s more important than ever. But too many New Yorkers do not have access to internet. That is the cold reality. It is more necessary than ever and still too many New Yorkers don’t have access and that is largely on the basis of economics. So that means – for so many people – they’re missing out on information and opportunity they need. That’s why our goal is affordable and reliable high speed broadband for every New Yorker by 2025 and this is a big step forward in that effort today.

It will take a lot of other innovation but LinkNYC is an example of what we can do. We put our heads together, we create. We take something that was in the past that now needs to be converted to something very different to serve our future. Together with CityBridge – which has done extraordinary work and we want to thank them for the partnership – we have developed these kiosks and we’re taking our city’s antiquated payphones and transforming them into ultra-fast communications hubs. And unlike a payphone, there’s no pay involved. You won’t need to insert a quarter, you won’t need to insert any kind of money whatsoever because LinkNYC is completely free. And installing these 7,500 kiosks won’t cost the taxpayer a dime. This is good all round. Not only will the service be free, but the whole effort to build this out won’t cost the taxpayer a dime. In fact, LinkNYC will generate at least half a billion dollars in revenue for the city over the next 12 years through advertising.

So let’s get to a key question – already heard it from people when they’ve heard of this new, extraordinary opportunity. They asked a question because they’re good New Yorkers. They say how fast is ultra-fast? When we say ultra-fast Wi-Fi, what does that mean? And there is no one on the earth more concerned about time than an average New Yorker. So with LinkNYC, New Yorkers will be able to access free Wi-Fi at speeds of up to one gigabit per second. That’s 100 times faster than most public hot spots around the country.

If you need to find a nearest subway stop but you’re all out of data, LinkNYC has your back. If you’re a visitor from overseas who didn’t spring for international roaming charges and needs directions to the Whitney, LinkNYC has your back. If you’re running late to pick up your child and your phone just died, LinkNYC has your back. And you can not only make a free call to let folks know you’re coming to pick up your child, you can also charge your phone right here at this kiosk. By the end of July, we’ll have over 500 kiosks in neighborhoods across the five boroughs from the South Bronx to St. George in Staten Island. And it’s not just about making it easier for New Yorkers to check the news, check the weather, check-in on social media, it is also about leveling the playing field – providing internet access across the board. This tool that defines the 21st Century and defines what opportunity will be – must be available to all, and this is one of the ways we are going to make it more possible for all New Yorkers to be connected.

Quickly in Spanish –

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

With that I want to welcome the President of Media at Intersection, which is the firm that we are so appreciative of – has been our partner in this effort – Scott Goldsmith. Thank you, Scott.


Mayor: Thank you very much Gale. Alright, let’s take questions about LinkNYC then we’ll take other questions. Courtney—

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Louder, everyone speak loud.

Question: Is this the only one in the entire NYC up and running right now?

Mayor: Introduce yourself, hold on. Okay let’s do the first, hold on we lost part. Let’s do the first one first. Is this the only one up and running in New York City? Introduce yourself, first.

Colin O’Donnell, Chief Innovation Officer, Intersection: I’m Colin O’Donnell, Chief Innovation Officer at Intersection and so we’re running Links all the way up 3rd Avenue. We actually have a number in this neighborhood. They are all being turned on. The tablets are being turned on today. We have been testing the Wi-Fi for a couple of weeks – over a dozen right now.  Over a dozen that are active and on right now.

Mayor: In this immediate neighborhood?

O’Donnell: Yep. And we’re already going up to the 40’s already.

Mayor: Okay, along Third Avenue. Okay, great. What was your second question?

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: Who wants to speak to that?

Scott Goldsmith, President, Intersection No, actually it’s very important to us that this network is advertisement free. So, when you get on the network you may often times when you are in an airport you have to watch a 30-second commercial, there’s none of that. It is completely free of advertising in the network. The only advertising that is generated on the display is on the two, 55-inch displays.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: It’s requiring what? Just speak up louder.

O’Donnell: Yeah, we ask for your email address so that we can communicate with you if there is changes in policy. If there is – if we need to contact you in any way so, privacy is very important to us. We work with the Mayor’s Office to create what we think is the most user-centric privacy policy of any public Wi-Fi network. And, we’ll never share your email address or share any personally identifiable information with any third party, period – in case we need to contact you. If there is updates to the policy— if there is any changes at all.

Mayor: Let me ask. Hold on, hold on. Hold on. We’re still on the previous question, we’ll come to you. We’re still on it. Hold on.

Maya Wiley, Counsel to the Mayor: Maya Wiley, I’m Counsel to the Mayor. When the city was negotiating this franchise we paid a lot of attention to ensuring that there would be a seamless system. So when you log on at one Link and then eventually be able to cross the city and go to other Links, you’re going to be able to get right back on the network. But, if there’s a change to the policy, like the privacy policy, which we spent a lot of time negotiating – it’s important for them to be able to communicate a change in the privacy policy for the user. The city does not own the data. CityBridge actually owns the data. The city will only have anonymized data. We will not have any personally identifiable information on anyone using the system.

Question: [Inaudible] Does that mean that FOIA does not apply?

Maya Wiley: Right, it’s not city-owned data so you can’t FOIA CityBridge unless you change laws in Albany.

Mayor: Jilian—

Question: What kind of policies do they have around access to that data [Inaudible]?

O’ Donnell: So as I said earlier, we will not share any personally identifiable information. That means your name, email address, any identifiable information about you. We do recognize there is an opportunity to create aggregate anonymous data that we can use to create better policies – better understand broadband utilization across the city. And that aggregate anonymous data, we will share with the city to be shared through the city open data platform.

Mayor: Emily—

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: Who wants to speak to that?

Goldsmith: Our fringe clause with the city requires that we install 100 in the first franchise year so by mid-July there will be at least 500. We’d like to do more though.

Mayor: And there’ll be all five boroughs?

Goldsmith: All five boroughs in the first 500, yes.

Mayor: Okay.

Goldsmith: Well, they were designed to be rugged and they were built to be rugged. And, Intersection operates a lot of infrastructure on the streets. And, one of the most important things is that we have a team of folks who are out almost every, every day. Seeing them— keeping them clean. We find that when things are useful and they’re kept beautiful, and their designed beautifully – people leave them alone.

Mayor: Talk about the maintenance schedule.

Goldsmith: The old franchise for the payphones required us to visit the phones once a week— once a month. This franchise requires that we visit it twice a week. And, so we are at these locations at least twice per week – cleaning them, making sure they are well maintained, making sure they work properly, and we have people on call 24 hours a day to ensure that if there’s an issue, they’re dispatched to make sure it works properly.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: Limitations?

O’Donnell: We advise you to use common internet hygiene practices to always ensure that you are connecting to an SSL connection when you are doing anything that requires a level of privacy. Most websites and services, like banks, will always use SSL. We do offer an encrypted connection, which is incredibly secure. So the latest generations of phones, example iOS7 and up, will be able to use this encrypted network. And that’s encrypted from your device out to the internet, offering an incredibly strong level of encryption for your connection.

Question: Are you concerned at all of people being asked to provide their email [Inaudible]?

O’Donnell: We actually haven’t had any feedback to that extent. It’s a great service we are providing. And, we think that it’s a pretty simple request.

Mayor: And, I would just add to that. This is a choice for people if they want to take advantage. Obviously, there is the internet piece of it. But, there is also the opportunity to charge phones and make phone calls. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable giving their address that’s obviously their choice. But, this is an option for people and I think a lot of folks are going to take advantage of it.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: I’ll start and I’d like Maya Wiley to join in. Look, this is part of a bigger effort to maximize broadband access. This takes on many different forms, what we are doing with libraries, what we are doing in public housing. Maya can speak to some of the details but, we have to fire a lot of cylinders if we are really going to address the profound digital divide that exists today and because education determines economic destiny. Well, to get the kind of education you deserve you have to have internet access because economic opportunity literally means finding job listings and finding where a tangible opportunity is, you need the internet for that. There really isn’t an option that works compared to the internet, at this point. So, this is another way to put tools into people’s hands who can’t afford those tools otherwise. 

Maya Wiley, Counsel to the Mayor: That’s absolutely right. I think it’s really important that we all recognize that far too many low-income New Yorkers are relying on their smartphones to get online. And, in fact, if you’re black, that’s probably three-quarters of the black community nationally, and, if you’re Latino, that’s about two-thirds. What that means is if you cannot have to pay, if you can reduce your pay as you go by getting online free around the city, that’s actually going to put more money back in your pocket. But I would also add that this is the first city franchise where we have a guaranteed revenue stream. What that has enabled us to do is do things like – the Mayor committed to 21,000 public housing residents getting free broadband at home. This franchise is what is paying essentially for some of that in-home use. I would also add that the other thing this franchise has done is it has already created 155 jobs. The manufacturing – a lot of it is staying local. We’ve already seen $32 million just in payroll increases as a result of this franchise, and $72 million in economic activity. All of that – all of that is part of reducing income inequality. 

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Don’t have internet access?

Question: Don’t have an email.

Mayor: Don’t have an email account?

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Okay. So, let’s see if any of you have that. Go ahead, what’s the second one?

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Okay. So, who’s got the first answer. Let’s do these in order.

Maya Wiley: So, for folks who have smartphones, they probably have an email address, and what we have seen is a vast increase nationally in the number of low-income people who are using smartphones. So, we think this is pretty much a leveler of the playing field on that score. 

Mayor: Okay. And on the second question?

O’ Donnell: The bundling and sale of anonymized data actually doesn’t factor into the business plan.

Question: [inaudible]

O’ Donnell: It’s actually – you know, we think there’s a whole host of innovation that can come from sharing anonymized aggregate data, so that’s why we’re interested in seeing what we can deliver to the city that can help people, you know, correlate bandwidth utilization in neighborhoods. 

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I’ll start and I’ll let [inaudible] speak for themselves. Look, there’s been a great deal of cooperation in planning this, and obviously we anticipated that we have to be ready for any issues involving safety. So, I think there’s been a great spirit of cooperation and there would be a process, as always, for any public safety agency to get such information, but we’re ready to follow through with that. Why don’t you speak to – either one of you.

O’ Donnell: I think – first of all, there’s a 9-1-1 button on the front of every Link, so you can call 9-1-1 really easily if there is an emergency. But in the event that there’s some crime committed, we’ll obviously comply with any legitimate law request.

Question: [inaudible] 

O’ Donnell: The – so, we’re actually – phone calls are separate than the Wi-Fi network. We’re actually not –

Goldsmith: What I’d say is, from a technical standpoint, if we are asked by the Police Department and a subpoena is issued, we will give up the information. We’re not going to challenge the New York City Police Department if they ask us for information that is legally – we’re legally required to give to them.

Question: [inaudible]

O’Donnell: We do have a camera attached to the tablet. It’s only user activated and it’s able to be used for video calls and things like that in the future. I just want to remind everybody that we’re in beta right now, we’ve just launched, and we’re going to be rolling out new features over time. We think there’s great opportunities for new applications that utilize that. 

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: That’s a yes.

O’Donnell: So, we do have a number of sensors in here. So, we have vibration detectors – we have vandalism sensors that we can use to detect vandalism. We also have security cameras that we can use in case of an emergency. And so, we’ll use those tools available to keep this safe and keep the structure working. 

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Anne Roest.

Commissioner Anne Roest, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications: Anne Roest, from DoITT. So, this franchise is the first one where we’ve actually included resiliency requirements. So, the franchisee had to do things like have a battery backup that’s good for at least 24 hours, make sure that electronics and the battery are at a level where they couldn’t be affected by flood, and they’ve actually done some additional testing around wind resistance, seismic activity, and, I believe, even automobile impact. So, there’s been some great testing as far as resiliency. 

Question: [inaudible]

Commissioner Roest: How about hacking? So, on the security side, this is, I’m going to say, the most secure public Wi-Fi network. They’ve got the latest technology to prevent hacking. They’ve done things like preventing peer-to-peer connection, which is when one computer can see another computer on the network. They’re monitoring seven-by-24 – the backend system – so, it’s an extremely secure network. 

Mayor: Go ahead. 

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: No. No, it’s just – this – again, this is owned by a private firm under a franchise with the city, and it is part of what’s built into what they provide here. But as was said, in the event a crime is committed, the NYPD requests the specific information, they’ll certainly cooperate. 

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: The 7,500 or more – what’s the latest? Who wants to – Maya? [inaudible]?

Goldsmith: Seven-and-a-half years for the entire deployment – about seven-and-a-half to eight years for the entire deployment of 7,500; 4,000 in the first four years. 

Mayor: 4,000 in the first four years – so, that means ’16, ’17, ’18, ’19. So, 4,000 by the end of 2019 – I did my math there. Go ahead.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Again, I think any specific information – there is an appropriate legal process for the NYPD to get that information, and the company’s made very clear they’ll cooperate. 

Anything else on this topic? Yes?

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I want to just show you that we’re – I’m going to give you the visual image – this is the past – this is the past, this is the future. 


We’re making the transition before your very eyes from the past to the future. Okay? This is the moment – we’ve crossed over. That phone is strong and resilient.


Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: No way, I love my flip phone. What was the question?

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: You’ve seen me make that 3-1-1 call didn’t you?


Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Just a Blackberry and my old reliable flip phone, but everyone else in my family would benefit a lot from it. 

Alright, anything else on this topic? Yes?

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Will not be – right.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: The value of?

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: You mean, if we had to pay for it, how much would it have cost? That’s a good question. What do we save the taxpayers? Let’s make this a positive. How much did we save the taxpayers, Scott?

Goldsmith: The initial deployment of all units is $300 million, and then operating it, going forward is – I can’t put a number on that, but it’s our nickel, and we’re doing it for the city.

Mayor: So, we saved the taxpayers $300 million to begin, and then a lot more to operate it. 

Mayor: On this topic, last call. Going once, going twice. Off-topic, off-topic.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I have learned long ago not to pay too much attention to statistics from that organization, which clearly has a bone to pick. We have the official statistics for the school system. Under my predecessor - and continuing under us - crime in schools has gone down. We’re very proud of that fact. We’re going to continue to drive crime down, and at the same time we’ve driven down suspensions - many of which were given out inappropriately in the past and were counterproductive. So as we talk about – with the overall situation, we ended unfair practices like the unconstitutional use of stop and frisk while simultaneously driving down crime on our seats. In the schools, we have reduced crime overall - we have reduced violent incidents overall while reducing the inappropriate use of suspensions. Those are the facts. We will happily share them with you.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Again, I’ve stated the facts - we’ll happily share them with you.

Question: [inaudible] is a slashing victim, and she says she’s worried every day that this guy who is a homeless, mentally ill person is going to get back out, and will re-offend or slash someone else or even slash her. What would you say to the victims of the slashings who we see every day on the news with the bandages?

Mayor: Look, we are going to do everything we can - and the NYPD is very adamant about this – to keep this city safe. So remember, under the – because of the work of the NYPD the city continues to get safer – less violence, less crime in the city, but when it comes to anyone who has a mental health problem that we know about and also a history of violence - we are tracking those individuals and making sure they get either mental health treatment, or they’re in a mental health facility, or they are incarcerated. Those are the three outcomes, and in the past that was not done. Too many people had a mental health problem that was documented and a violence problem that was documented – somehow were left on the streets without either treatment or law enforcement follow up. We’re ending that reality, and it’s going to be a much more rigorous approach going forward in close cooperation with the NYPD.

Question: Are you saying that they’re not going to get back out on the street?

Mayor: Again, we’re going to take in every single case – a follow up plan for each person to make sure they’re getting either the mental health treatment they need, or they’re in the criminal justice system.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I don’t know about the audit. You’ll have to tell me which one you’re referring to.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I haven’t seen the audit. I just can’t respond to it.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: That’s nice, I haven’t seen the audit. Next question.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: We talk a lot. No, we totally agree that it is a good concept - but we have to address this issue right now – so we need to get real about this. Right now, we’ve got thousands of inmates on Rikers Island, and we need to fix the problem as it is right now. We inherited an absolute mess. The status quo on Rikers Island is totally unacceptable, but while we work on long term solutions – and we’re going to work very actively with Judge Lippman who I think very highly of – right now, we have a thing that has to be addressed, which is why we ended punitive segregation for adolescents - we are ending it now for young adults. That is why we’re recruiting, and screening, and training corrections officers directly – that’s why we have new units at Rikers where crime and violence has been driven down profoundly. We’re changing the entire culture of the place, and we’re being much tougher on any wrong doers. We’re screening employees, we’re screening visitors in a whole different way to stop contraband, to stop weapons from coming in – and as you’ve seen the Department of Investigation has been a very regular presence of Rikers dealing with anyone who breaks the law there. So this is what we have to do right now. It’s great to talk about the things we hope to do in the future, but right now we have fix the situation there.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: I said it very clearly. She and I are in total agreement.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: We want – we want to focus on a lot of options, but the BQX is a city program. This is something the City of New York will do because we have an opportunity because of the potential revenue that can be created to do something there that is vitally necessary. Certainly has not been proposed by the MTA - something we can do for ourselves and serve hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people between the folks who live there and the folks who work there, 700,000 people - and I think many tens of thousands more in the future. But at the same time, we have said to the MTA there are areas we think they need to focus on going forward, and Utica Avenue is one of those examples.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: It’s a free country. People are going to have their viewpoints, but we see a lot of support for our affordable housing plan. AARP is strongly supporting us, a lot of labor unions are strongly supporting us, a lot of elected officials are strongly supporting us - including one standing right here. [Inaudible] The fact is the conversations with the City Council are going very well. They’ve said their concern on a couple items. They want to see if they can make some changes, we’re very open to that. But I am confident that this is the right way to create a lot more affordable housing for the people of New York City.

Two more questions. Yes?

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: Absolutely. First of all, I commend President Obama for restoring diplomatic relations and for making the bold decision to go to Cuba. I think that’s absolutely important to end decades and decades of an irrational United States policy against Cuba. The embargo has to end, too – the travel restrictions have to end. We just have to normalize the situation overall because these are a set of pointless policies, and they’re rooted in a Cold War dynamic that doesn’t exist, and they didn’t make sense back then anyway. So I think the President is doing something very, very important, and yes, of course, it’ll be good for New York City because we’re one of the great international cities. So anytime there are new markets opened up to us, anytime there’s an opportunity for our businesses to go and participate someplace they couldn’t before that’s very good. And we have a strong tie to Cuba – a big Cuban-American population in and around New York City, and I’m sure many people want to have a closer connection to their homeland, so I think it’s a great step forward.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: We’re going to have the bill signing tomorrow, and as I’ve said – what the commission, the Quadrennial Commission proposed were some of the most profound reforms in terms of the City Council that we’ve seen in decades. Finally clarifying that there cannot be substantial outside employment any longer, clarifying that the Council members will do a full time role – ending the practice of favoritism through the lulus, the special compensation given to some members. A lot of us heard people trying to achieve these reforms for years and years – this is the first time these reforms are actually being achieved. So I think the Commission laid out a very good road map, and the Council agreed to make those changes and to really limit their own opportunities going forward, and I think that’s smart, so we’ll have that bill signing tomorrow. I looked forward to singing the bill.

Thank you, everyone.

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