What a disconnect!
Mayoral candidate Maya Wiley has made her work expanding high-speed Internet access to poorer New Yorkers a central part of her case to voters that she can run City Hall.
But a key piece of that effort — installing broadband in three Big Apple public housing developments — remains incomplete six years after it was first announced, a review by The Post found.
The $10 million initiative was supposed to bring free high-speed internet access to the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, Brooklyn’s Red Hook Houses and the Mott Haven Houses in the South Bronx. Only the Queensbridge complex ever received the service, according to city records and interviews with tenants.
Wiley has constantly cited the Queensbridge WiFi program when asked about her know-how of the city bureaucracy and how she would manage its more than 300,000 employees and $90-plus billion dollar budget.
“This is how I managed inside City Hall and got things done — like getting every single apartment in Queensbridge Houses free broadband, well before COVID, and laying out a plan to do that in more public housing — by recognizing it’s a team effort and that you have to have the smartest and most qualified folks in all our important positions,” Wiley told former Bloomberg administration honcho, Howard Wolfson, on his podcast.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the high-profile program with Wiley by his side in a 2015 press conference at the Mott Haven Houses in the South Bronx. Even then-federal Housing Secretary Julián Castro attended the event.
Six years later, Mott Haven Houses residents told The Post, the service has never shown up.
“Oh no, no,” said Carmen Perez, a 62-year-old resident of the facility, when asked if the free WiFi was ever in place. Ditto, the Red Hook Houses.
“I remember there were talks about free Internet to this area, but we never got it,” said resident Sandra Palacios-Serano, 60, who chalked it up to another broken promise at the scandal-scarred Housing Authority.
“This was just another thing they say they are going to do and they don’t complete,” she added.
The failure hit working parents like Judith Beal, a mother of four, particularly hard as the coronavirus forced children out of classrooms and into virtual learning for instruction.
“WiFi is very important kids need to do school work—that would have been a help with us one less bill to pay during Corona,” the 42-year-old home health aide and mother of four, who shells out for her Internet access at her Red Hook Houses apartment.
“They dropped the ball on this, she added. “When you live in the projects, you’re used to it.”
City Hall proudly touted the program in the months after the initial announcement.
De Blasio listed it as one of his signature projects to roll out broadband access in poorer neighborhoods across the five boroughs in an annual report issued by his office in 2016.
“The project will break ground at the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in North America, in May 2016,” City Hall proclaimed in the document, adding that construction and service would begin at Mott Haven and Red Hook in the following 18 months.
Shortly after the initial groundbreaking, Wiley departed City Hall to become chairwoman of the police oversight Civilian Complaint Review Board and take a teaching gig at the New School.
Progress also began to stall. The WiFi effort scored less prominent placement in the city’s 2017 report on infrastructure upgrades, the document showed that officials still planned to install it at the Red Hook, Mott Haven and two other developments.
The program then went unmentioned in the 2018 progress report.
It then reemerged with a brief reference in a 2019 update to the city’s infrastructure plans that recasted the program into a Queensbridge Houses-only initiative.
“The City provided free home internet service to the more than 6,000 residents of the Queensbridge Houses,” the planning document stated, making no mention of the dramatic change in scope.
The administration did not include the WiFi program in its 2020 report.
In 2021, City Hall implicitly conceded the work never got done when they launched yet another program in May to bring free or reduced cost broadband to 13 NYCHA developments — including the Red Hook Houses.
“The City is seeking connectivity improvements for NYCHA developments citywide,” a City Hall spokeswoman said.
Officials said they have also sought plans from potential contractors to bring city-sponsored high-speed internet to the Mott Haven Houses but have not yet finalized those arrangements.
The examination of the WiFi program comes as other aspects of Wiley’s broadband effort at City Hall come under scrutiny.
Officials from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications revealed in budget testimony last month that the deal struck by de Blasio’s former top aide to install digital LinkNYC kiosks to replace phone booths wildly overestimated potential revenues.
That, in turn, has stalled the program’s expansion, nonprofit news website The City reported Monday.
Wiley’s campaign defended her handling of the NYCHA broadband program and the LinkNYC deal in a statement late Tuesday.
“The bottom-line is that the biggest and most significant steps the City has taken to date on affordable high-speed broadband are those that Maya led five years ago or set in motion and saw a massive expansion of broadband under her leadership,” said a spokeswoman for Wiley’s campaign.
Metro | New York Post