The vendors behind the LinkNYC digital wifi kiosks owe the city millions of dollars, the city's top information services official told the City Council Tuesday.
In preliminary budget testimony Tuesday at the City Council, Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications Commissioner Jessica Tisch blamed her department's declining revenue projections on the LinkNYC vendor CityBridge -- made up of a consortium of tech companies including Alphabet, the parent company of Google -- who has for years failed to pay the city millions of dollars in contractual obligations, according to Tisch.
Tisch said she was ready to seek court action: "I am poised to take any and all necessary action against these multiple breaches of contract to collect the money the city is owed," she said.
The LinkNYC free WiFi hubs were heralded in 2014 by Mayor Bill de Blasio as "a critical step toward a more equal, open, and connected city for every New Yorker, in every borough." In return for that unfettered Internet access, LinkNYC would collect user data that would in turn tailor the ads (which helped fund the project) to the viewer. The initial franchise contract envisioned 7,500 LinkNYC kiosks across the five boroughs by 2022, with the de Blasio administration anticipating generating $500 million in revenue for the city in the first 12 years of the program.
But issues have mounted in the years since the launch, from the discovery of surveillance cameras mounted on the approximately 1,800 kiosks sprinkled around the city, to vandalized kiosks, to CityBridge's failure to provide another 537 kiosks this year -- these were to be placed "in underserved areas of the boroughs" where New Yorkers might most need free digital access, Tisch said.
Tisch also said CityBridge was behind schedule on their contract to rip out the city's remaining payphones.
CityBridge has only paid $2.6 million of the $33 million owed for fiscal year 2019, Tisch said. The company also hasn't paid any part of the $43 million it owes for this fiscal year, the New York Post reported.
In a statement, a spokesman for CityBridge said Tisch's testimony glossed over the city's own blame.
“What DoITT presented at the City Council was a fictional narrative that ignores the City’s responsibility for the current state of affairs. While the public’s use of LinkNYC’s free services has far exceeded expectations, installing Links has proven more difficult and costly than expected, largely due to the City’s own rules and bureaucracy," the spokesperson said. "For nearly two years, CityBridge has tried to work with the City to solve these problems, but we have been consistently met with silence and delay. CityBridge has maintained LinkNYC’s free services for the public - across all five boroughs - at no cost to users or taxpayers and is committed to the continued success and expansion of the program."