On November 2, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer issued a letter to Mayor de Blasio and the city’s Education Department Chancellor, setting forth proposals in light of the over 100,000 students without internet access and 77,000 still lacking Wi-Fi enabled devices, commenting in a related statement that, “without immediate action, these students will fall further behind in their coursework and find themselves at an even deeper educational disadvantage.”
Broadband access is a national issue, with over 20 million U.S. households lacking service and there have been various government as well as private efforts to attempt to remedy this situation such as Tuesday’s announcement by Microsoft and the Open Data Institute regarding an ‘Education Open Data Challenge,’ that seeks to “shine [some] light on the relationship between broadband access and K-12 education outcomes,” and also to “better understand the long-term impact the ongoing disruption to traditional learning will have on the world’s most vulnerable learners.”
The ‘Chicago Connected’ project announced in June, is an effort by public, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders to create a $50 million program with the goal of providing free high speed internet access to over 100,000 students in that city over 4 years.
In NYC, the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer released the ‘New York City Internet Master Plan,’ in January, noting that, “every New Yorker must be able to access and use the internet to its full potential,” in the face of research in the report finding that 40% of New York City households lack the combination of home and mobile broadband, with 1.5 million residents lacking both.
The plan provided for the following four phases:
- The introduction of a new role for city government that would prioritize areas for new public private investment.
- Establishing partnerships for new broadband infrastructure and service
- The expansion of service to more New Yorkers by iterating the solicitation of more service options using the new infrastructure
- Ensuring that all New Yorkers would benefit from connectivity
With the pandemic creating an urgent need for broadband access as much of learning has shifted to a digital model, an acceleration of the plan was announced by the Mayor in July.
However, with the situation remaining critical in November, Comptroller Stringer’s statement expressed the sentiment that the City “has no comprehensive plan.” New York City Council Member Bob Holden, who chairs the Committee on Technology recently shared a similar sentiment at a hearing held on October 13, saying that he was ‘very skeptical,’ of the Mayor’s Plan.
Comptroller Stringer’s letter calls for the convening of the City’s top internet service providers and carriers to “discuss quick and affordable options to bring reliable internet to all students who currently lack it,” using the City’s substantial purchasing power to leverage competitive pricing for internet service, and ensuring that students who lack a device are provided one and that families have the technical support they need to be able to use the device.