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Opinion: Let's make New York a leader for equitable digital infrastructure – City & State New York

Opinion: Let's make New York a leader for equitable digital infrastructure – City & State New York

Opinion
Workers install a Link5G pole in the Bronx. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
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Latrice Walker
Despite New Yorkers’ renowned adaptability, resistance to change is an all too familiar phenomenon in the city. Whenever there is a plan to address complex challenges with vital infrastructure – from affordable housing to CitiBike docks to dedicated lanes for express buses – there’s always a small contingent of New Yorkers who find a bone to pick with the project and shout, “No!” 
But we are giving New Yorkers something to say “Yes” to.
In Brownsville, we are ready to lead the charge for a new era in New York City – one that advances critical digital infrastructure for all communities through the installation of Link5G smart poles.
The stakes for this project could not be higher. New York City is in the midst of a major digital equity crisis. About 25% of households across the five boroughs lack in-home broadband subscriptions. This disparity is even worse among our Black, Hispanic, low-income and senior communities, in which 35-45% of households don’t have in-home broadband.
The “digital divide” is especially painful for our students, as more than 10% of those enrolled in city public schools lack the adequate in-home internet connection they depend on ​​to study and complete their coursework. In 2023, in the wake of the pandemic, standing in the way of new infrastructure designed to bring the benefits of high-speed internet to our most vulnerable community members is simply incomprehensible.
The good news is that the government of New York City has recognized the urgency to bridge the digital divide and is working with the private sector to deploy 2,000 new Link5G smart poles across the city, with a focus on serving communities most in need. This new telecommunications infrastructure will provide free, high-speed Wi-Fi – just like the original LinkNYC kiosks – along with added space for cellular service providers’ 5G small cell radios to dramatically improve New Yorkers’ mobile internet service.
The Link5G smart poles enable internet service providers to provide high-speed internet in more neighborhoods wirelessly, using radio frequencies instead of cables. But still, wherever new Link5G smart poles are installed, additional underground fiber optic cable comes with them. As a result, the program makes it possible for more internet service providers to deliver as many affordable in-home broadband connectivity options as possible in communities that are currently relegated to expensive or unreliable service from just one company.
Link5G is creating a citywide 5G network that depends on the installation of smart poles across the five boroughs to be effective. That’s why communities that will benefit the most from Link5G – like Brownsville, where 39% of households don’t have broadband access – are dismayed that some of their fellow New Yorkers are saying they don’t need or want the service that Link5G provides. They threaten the city’s forward-looking vision and stall its efforts to foster equitable connectivity for underserved communities. 
I am proud to be part of the movement saying “yes” to this critical infrastructure. And it should be no surprise that, like me, many of the other digital equity champions supporting Link5G come from communities that have long been forgotten and have suffered under the digital divide.  
Just look at Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, who serves areas like Melrose and Mott Haven, where nearly half of residents lack broadband access. Or Queens Community Board 12 member Dawn Kelly – a member of the NYC Mayor’s Small Business Advisory Commission and owner of The Nourish Spot in Southeast Jamaica, Queens – who outlined how LinkNYC empowers small businesses and fosters civic engagement in her community, where 41% of households don’t have broadband. Or Assembly Member Monique Chandler-Waterman, who represents communities in Brooklyn – a borough where one in three households lack broadband access – and is championing LinkNYC’s infrastructure as a means to expand access to mental health resources for her constituents. 
Every leader should remember to think about all of our fellow New Yorkers when they consider a program like this, not just their immediate neighborhoods. Remember the students in Brooklyn trying to get online to do their homework. Consider the small businesses trying to process a Grubhub order on a 5G-enabled tablet in the Bronx.  And then put “YIMBYism” to work and say “Yes” to Link5G for the good of the entire city and its future.
Latrice Walker is an Assembly member representing Brownsville and Ocean Hill.
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