In February, the New York City Council unanimously adopted Resolution No. 669 to provide low- or no-cost broadband Internet access to affordable housing residents throughout the city.
The resolution, introduced by Council Member Gale Brewer, is one way that the city is working to bridge the digital divide between the Internet haves and the Internet have-nots.
The effort to bring high-speed Internet access into affordable housing buildings was also made possible by the One Economy Corporation's Bring IT Home campaign, a national public policy initiative to enable lower-income families to tap into the power of the Internet.
Below, City Council Member Gale Brewer and Mark Levine, the One Economy executive who helped to draft the resolution, share their thoughts on what Resolution No. 669 means for New York City in an interview for Corante readers.
Q: For readers who may not be familiar with One Economy's nationwide "Bring IT Home" initiative, can you outline the key ideas behind the initiative as well as the likely impact of the initiative on New York City in particular?
Levine: "The fastest-growing sector of Americans using computers and the Internet is low-income individuals. Over the past several years, public and corporate investment has brought widespread technology access to Americas schools and has created thousands of computer technology centers. The next frontier for this critical work is in the homes of low-income people.
One Economys national Bring IT Home campaign promotes state-level public policy changes to make high-speed Internet connectivity standard practice. We work with State Housing Finance Agencies to craft policies that provide incentives to affordable housing developers to build and renovate housing that provides in-home high-speed Internet access. In some cases, the access is provided at low or no cost to the residents. Since Bring IT Home launched one year ago, housing finance policies have been amended in 29 states, affecting nearly 70 percent of all tax credit-financed developments. By the end of this year alone, more than 200,000 people in 80,000 homes across the country could have access to valuable online services and information in the comfort and convenience of their own home.
If fully implemented, in New York City alone, policy changes influenced by Res. No. 669 could impact at least 30,000 low-income households over the next three fiscal years."
Q: What is the nature of the collaboration between One Economy and the New York City Council in bringing high-speed Internet access to affordable housing residents?
Levine: "The New York City Council turned to One Economy for our expertise in this type of policy development. Weve been working with Council Member Brewer and the Committee on Technology in Government for more than a year to help fashion the policy and ensure the successful passage of the resolution. Thanks to the Councils leadership and vision, New York has set the bar for other cities to consider similar action for the benefit of their communities."
Brewer: "The Committee on Technology in Government is working with One Economy because we both believe that broadband access has the potential to empower low-income children and families and expand their economic, social and educational opportunities. Broadband is not an amenity in today's world; it is a necessity. It helps adults find jobs and children do their homework. Encouraging high-speed Internet to be built into all new affordable housing developments in New York City is a cost-effective way to have an impact on the lives of many low-income New Yorkers."
Q: Can you also comment on the role that technology companies are playing in the build-out of the initiative? From the One Economy Web site, it looks like the New York Times Company, InterActiveCorp and Time Warner's AOL unit -- in addition to eBay, Yahoo and Google -- are all playing a role.
Levine: "One Economy is fortunate to have many generous and visionary corporations supporting our work. Members of the Bring IT Home campaign including Bell South, Cisco Systems, eBay, Fannie Mae Foundation, Freddie Mac, Google, InterActiveCorp, Intel, Microsoft, Qwest, SBC, Time Warner, Verizon and Yahoo!, and more than 120 nonprofit housing and community development organizations provide financial support and, in some cases, tailor their offerings to make them affordable and accessible to low-income Americans."
Q: What are the key criteria for determining which affordable housing developments in New York City are next in line to receive broadband Internet access? How many housing developments in New York have already been selected to participate in the program?
Levine: "One Economys primary role is at the policy level; our Bring IT Home Policy Change and Implementation kit helps states and municipalities craft policies that encourage developers to include high-speed Internet service in the homes they build. We also can help implement policy through a comprehensive education program that teaches developers how to bring the Internet to their residents.
In New York City, once the policy is implemented by the Citys Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), individual affordable housing developers will decide how they want to include broadband as part of their application for funding. Housing policies which have the most impact for low-income families consider both the provision of high-speed Internet infrastructure and service. For instance, HPD's Tax Credit Allocation Plan could require the installation of wired or wireless infrastructure in all tax credit properties and the provision of broadband service to be included in the rent. In other cities and states where similar policy changes have been made, housing developers are quickly realizing the benefits of incorporating broadband into their units, from both development and property management perspectives."
Q: Could you quantify, please, the scope of the "Bring IT Home" initiative in New York City, in terms of # computers, # housing developments, # residents to receive Internet access, etc.
Levine: One Economy has been working with individual affordable housing developers throughout the city in advance of formal policy change. Twelve hundred apartments in the Mt. Hope section of the Bronx have been wired for broadband, 200 more are coming online in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, and additional projects are in the early stages of development. A New York City computer distribution program is being crafted and will launch in the near future."
Q: What other steps are planned by the New York City Council and the Committee on Technology in Government, specifically to address the digital divide in the city?
Brewer: "We are working aggressively on many fronts to address the digital divide in New York City. The New York City Council unanimously passed Resolution Number 669 on February 2, 2005. Our next step, working with One Economy, is to meet with the housing authority and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to discuss the resolution. Using our ability to hold oversight hearings, we are scheduling a hearing on April 7 regarding the Mayoral Administrations study of the New York Citys telecommunications infrastructure. At that time, we will hear public comments from stakeholders and telecommunications experts. We are particularly interested in hearing the Administrations position as well as the testimony of witnesses regarding how the Administrations telecommunications plan addresses the lack of affordable and universally accessible broadband in New York City. We think the commissioning of this study is a step in the right direction, but we hope to keep the Administration focused on our position that affordable and universally accessible broadband is a right of all New Yorkers. The Committee is also planning to introduce legislation to create a broadband commission to study the fiscal and technical feasibility of New York City implementing a metro-wide wireless broadband network."