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Reports from Policy Analysts

Internet Access for Students in New York City

Submitted On: Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Analyst: Kulnis, Derek

Analyst: Derek Kulnis

October 24, 2016

New York City Libraries will offer 5,000 WiFi hotspots to students and families in order to expand internet access to more students across the city. 

According to Sri Ravipati in T/H/E Journal, more than 800,000 households in New York City do not have a broadband connection.  Ravipati reports on how the city’s plan is an attempt to bridge the digital divide by allowing families to borrow free WiFi hotspots at local libraries throughout the city.

Chancellor Carmen Fiorina explained that the program includes the participation of the Brooklyn Public Library, Queens Public Library, and New York Public Library systems, as well as Google and Sprint. It will launch in 46 library branches, all of which are “primarily in high-need neighborhoods with low-internet connectivity.”

The hotspots will be located in branches near Community Schools, which are defined by the city as “neighborhood hubs where students receive high-quality academic instruction, families can access social services, and communities congregate to share resources and address their common challenges.

According to the City’s Department of Education website, “eligibility to borrow one of the 5,000 free hotspots, which are powered by Sprint as part of the White House’s ConnectED Initiative, extends to City residents who are over 18, report no internet at home, report having at least one public school student in grades pre-K through 12, have a fine-free library card, and attend a lending event at one of the participating branches.”

The site also notes that there is a limit of one hotspot per family and that the hotspots are loaned for one year.

Cecilia Kang described earlier this year in The New York Times how an estimated five million families in the US lack access to internet services at home, and discussed the diverse strategies that local municipalities used in order to narrow the digital divide, including using school buses equipped with WiFi so that students could finish their homework on the bus.

The attempt at expanding Internet access for students is taking place at local, state, and national levels.  In March, the FCC voted to expand the Federal Lifeline Program to include subsidies for broadband access for low-income households. 

The 3-2 vote in favor of the program was split along party lines amidst what Benjamin Herold described in an Edweek blog as “delays and partisan recriminations.”

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