Access to the Internet is the fourth utility of the modern age—as central to our daily lives as electricity, gas and water. Yet high-speed Internet and the connections it facilitates to education, employment, culture, and commerce remain beyond the reach of millions of New Yorkers.

This is a critical moment for New York City’s digital future. On December 8th, the Franchise Concession and Review Committee (FCRC) will hold a public hearing on the City’s proposal to transform our network of 20th century payphones into the world’s largest public WiFi network. In addition, regulators at the state and federal level are reviewing the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and evaluating whether the merger is in the public interest. These events present unique opportunities to expand the quality, reach, and affordability of Internet access throughout the five boroughs.

The Census Bureau recently released the results of the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS) which, for the first time ever, asked questions about computer ownership and Internet access. This report, from the Office of Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, analyzes data from the ACS to chart the scope of the Digital Divide in New York City.

The data shows that millions of New Yorkers do not have computers and/or broadband at home, and that there are disparities based on age, education level, employment status, race and neighborhood

  • 27 percent (730,000) of NYC households lack broadband Internet at home.
  • 17 percent (533,000) of NYC households do not have a computer at home.
  • More than one-third (34 percent) of households in the Bronx lack broadband at home, compared to 30 percent in Brooklyn, 26 percent in Queens, 22 percent in Staten Island, and 21 percent in Manhattan.
  • 40 percent of New Yorkers with less than a high school education lack broadband at home compared to 11 percent of New Yorkers with a bachelors or advanced degree.
  • 34 percent of people outside the workforce lack broadband at home, while 21 percent of unemployed New Yorkers lack access.
  • The 15th Congressional District (Bronx) has the highest percentage of households without broadband at 36 percent, while the 12th Congressional District (Upper East Side/Queens) has the fewest households without broadband at 15 percent.
  • 21 percent of NYC youth (0-18 years) lack broadband at home, while 45 percent of seniors (65+) lack broadband at home.
  • 27 and 26 percent of Black and Hispanic households, respectively, lack broadband at home, compared to 21 percent of White households and 15 percent of Asian households.
  • As shown in the map below, nearly half (47 percent) of households in Brooklyn Community District 12 (Borough Park, Kensington, and Ocean Parkway) lack broadband at home, while only 11 percent of households in Manhattan Community Districts 1 and 2 (Battery Park City, Greenwich Village, and SoHo) lack access.

Two major causes of Internet inequality in New York City are the high cost and poor quality of broadband compared to other cities. Bringing broadband into more New Yorkers’ homes requires addressing both speed and affordability. As noted in the Open Technology Institute’s (OTI) 2014 “Cost of Connectivity Report,” consumers from Seoul and Paris to Kansas City and Chattanooga, are able to access a 1 gigabit connection for less than $70 per month. By comparison, the top speed available for consumers in New York City is half the speed of those cities (500 megabits), at a cost of $299.99 a month.

In other words, New York City consumers with the fastest available broadband pay at least four times as much to download material at half the speed as citizens of other global cities.

OTI analyzed the “best deals under $40/month,” and ranked New York City 20th among 24 global cities. New York’s Time Warner Cable 15 megabit connection for $39.99/month paled in comparison to San Francisco’s Webpass service which offers 200 megabits for $30/month. New York also failed to measure up to gigabit services across Europe and Asia.

As the New York Times summarized, “At nearly every speed, Internet access costs more in the United States than in Europe.”5 The findings of this report reinforce the importance of ensuring that the City takes concrete steps to improve the quality, availability, and affordability of high-speed Internet across the five boroughs. This includes leveraging the LinkNYC proposal with an eye towards expanding high-speed Internet access in a manner that is reliable, equitable, and affordable for all our neighborhoods.