New York City leads the nation in many categories. It’s the largest city in the country by population, and it’s arguably the nation’s cultural and communications hub as well. How is it possible, then, that New York isn’t among our nation’s leading cities in Internet connectivity? How is it that this Metropolis isn’t even close? While these are important questions, the one that tops our list is the one that NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is asking: what are we going to do about it?

Over a Quarter of Households Lack Access

The city comptroller reports 27 percent of city households have no Internet access at all. On a borough-by-borough basis, the Bronx is the worst offender, as 34 percent of households lack access. For the other boroughs, that number is 30 percent in Brooklyn, 26 percent in Queens, 22 percent in Staten Island, and 21 percent in Manhattan.

The Cost of Broadband is too High

The same report points to cost as a major factor. While Chattanooga, TN residents can get gigabit speeds for under $70 per month, half that speed in New York costs residents $300 per month. As expensive as everything else is in the city, it’s no wonder that some residents have to make the hard choice to forgo access.

Finding Solutions

To combat this problem, the New York Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation issued a “Call for Innovations” to run through the end of June, seeking suggestions on how to improve the availability, price, and quality of broadband access in the city. Note that this call isn’t the usual bureaucratic Request For Proposals (RFP) typically sent out only to network builders and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Anyone who has a good idea for a project proposal or policy idea is welcome to submit it, though to be taken seriously you’ll need plenty of data and details, of course.

To judge these submissions, the Mayor’s Office also created two new positions: one is the Special Advisor for Broadband in the Office of the Mayor, and the second is Deputy Commissioner for Telecommunications Planning at the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). They’ll work with the city’s existing Broadband Task Force, and in all, this group represents the extent to which the administration is making improved access a priority.

One example of original thinking regarding the city’s approach to broadband is the city’s LinkNYC plan to replace thousands of unused payphones with Wi-Fi hubs. That plan is a great example of modifying common, existing infrastructure for a new use. It’s the same reason Wales examined using sheep to transmit Wi-Fi — you make the most of what you have available.

Pressure from Upstate

NYC will have to move quickly if it doesn’t want the rest of the state to pass it by. While that’s hard to imagine, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office made a pledge of broadband access for everyone in the state by 2019 as part of his New NY Broadband Program.

Improve Your Own Broadband Access

Here’s our idea for improving your online experience, no matter where you live: find out about any high-speed Internet plans available in your area. It’s faster than you think, and you won’t need a city-wide task force to find a solution—just your zip code.

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