The city's plan to convert ratty, disused pay phones into convenient Wi-fi hotspots was a noble endeavor—the right to peruse social media is as inalienable as that to fresh produce and decent public transportation. Which is to say, residents of poor neighborhoods were bound to get shafted.
The Daily News went deep into the dark underworld of Wi-Fi inequality, discovering that Manhattan and certain wealthy quadrants of Brooklyn and Queens will enjoy internet up to 10 times faster than that available in poorer parts of those boroughs, as well as Staten Island and the Bronx.
It's not that de Blasio explicitly hates poor people—it's that the network is subsidized entirely through advertising, and that those advertisers are generally more interested in appealing to the pocketbooks of the wealthy.
The News story frequently invokes "speedy internet" versus slow, plodding, plebe internet, but buries the actual figures somewhere deep below a series of kvetching quotes about mules. The story describes the service in terms of "100 megabytes" versus the faster "one gigabyte," which is curious since bandwidth is typically measured in bits, of which there are eight to every one byte.
One hundred "megabytes" is sufficient to stream several movies at once, and around four times faster than what most New Yorkers, excepting those with Fios, can get in their homes on a good day. The difference, of course, will come down to the number of people sucking up the bandwidth, and we can reasonably assume that poorer neighborhoods will see a higher demand, since rich people reflexively hate sharing and generally have the funds to retreat within the walls of their own password-protected barbicans of Internet efficiency.
Want to get technical? I solicited the following explanation from a software engineer at an internet security company.
"There are several factors that will determine true performance, including the total number of users and total traffic. True speed for users on a saturated network will probably be less than 10 MBps," he wrote in an email. "Think of it this way: For a 802.11b/g WAP (one wifi access point), service will appear to suck after 30 to 40 people connect. And if 40 people all stream video at the same time, the service will collapse. The 1 Gbps connection would allow 30 people to watch 'Game of Thrones' on HBO GO at the same time."
That the initiative, spearheaded by a consortium of companies under the banner name CityBridge, will rely entirely on ad revenue and not a drop on public funds presents a distasteful Catch-22: Poorer neighborhoods will likely see more demand, but advertisers will gravitate toward more moneyed parts of the city. We reached out to the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications for comment on why the funds couldn't be distributed more evenly. We'll update this story if and when we hear back.
Construction of the new network is scheduled to begin in early 2015, and CityBridge is authorized to build up to 10,000 such hotspots around the city. The Times reported earlier this month that each kiosk could handle up to 250 devices without diminished service, though it's unclear to which locations this figure refers.