Fast and Free

New York's Vision for Public Wi-Fi Everywhere

Wi-Fi is essential to New York City's strategy to give every resident and business access to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband service everywhere in the city. Globally, Wi-Fi is the workhorse of the Internet. Currently Wi-Fi carries 60% to 80% of all broadband data traffic on smartphones, laptops, and other mobile devices, far more than cellular networks do. But a new technology is threatening the effectiveness of Wi-Fi – and its ability to create connectivity for all.

On Monday, May 2, New York City sent a letter to the FCC highlighting its concerns about the potential harms that LTE-U will have on WiFi. Read the letter here.

New York City's innovative use of Wi-Fi to make Internet access available, fast, and affordable for all New Yorkers include:

  • New York City's Economic Development Corporation's RISE : NYCresiliency initiative, which will fund the installation of resilient Wi-Fi networks to serve small businesses in areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy
  • Support for free public Wi-Fi in Chelsea, Harlem, downtown Manhattan, and downtown Brooklyn, as well as City parks, libraries, and train stations
  • Free broadband service to more than 21,000 residents of public housing, beginning with the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the country

All of that free connectivity, though, may be at risk due to a plan by many cellular carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile to begin offloading data traffic onto the unlicensed frequencies of our public airwaves – on which Wi-Fi depends – to augment the licensed spectrum they currently use. The interference could slow or even shut down public Wi-Fi systems, shrinking access, undermining digital equity, and scrapping hundreds of millions of dollars marked for improving the social, digital, and economic equity of NYC.

Contributors:

Michael Calabrese is director of the Wireless Future Project, which is part of New America’s Open Technology Institute. 

Greta Byrum is the director of the Resilient Communities program at New America. She reimagines the way we design, build, and manage communications systems to support local residents as leaders, organizers, and preparedness experts.