Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

New York's Chelsea Neighborhood Is the Latest Free Public Wifi Experiment

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, January 8 2013

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was on hand this morning to announce free wifi covering all the outdoor areas in a stretch of Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, from Eighth Avenue west and from Gansevoort Street to 19th Street.

The announcement is the latest gesture by the city that indicates Internet access has become, if not a necessity, then a basic perk of city life. Coverage in Chelsea joins paid service coming to New York City subway stations; wifi provided by AT&T in many public parks; free wifi in several public spaces in the Financial District provided by the Downtown Alliance, which also manages a business improvement district; DUMBO in Brooklyn, the first neighborhood in New York to offer free wifi on this scale; parts of Red Hook; and a loose collection of hotspots throughout the city.

If BIDs are the type of organization expected to set up free outdoor wifi in a neighborhood, that puts Internet access in a class of local benefit that also includes sidewalk trash removal, compacting garbage cans, e-waste recycling programs and map-dispensing private security officers.

While Bloomberg and Sen. Chuck Schumer spoke at the announcement, credit for the actual work goes to Google, which has had a New York headquarters opposite Chelsea Market for several years, and to The Chelsea Improvement Company. Twenty-nine antennas are expected to blanket the neighborhood's outdoor areas in Internet coverage, serving an audience that includes 2,000 residents of the New York City Housing Authority's Fulton Houses development, Google Chief Information Officer Ben Fried said Tuesday morning.

Google is sponsoring this network for its first two years.

Earlier in the 2000s, several big cities began to dream of ways to provide municipal wifi. In Philadelphia, for example, Earthlink built a $17 million network that was intended to provide low-cost Internet access throughout the city. Then the company announced in 2008 that it was scrapping the plan. While Google's name on Tuesday's announcement might bring hope that another revolutionary Internet idea, Google-provided gigabit access via Google Fiber, was headed New York's way, Mashable's Alex Fitzpatrick reports that is absolutely not the case.

But while a patchwork of BID-funded, smaller-scale networks seems to be sprouting in New York in a bottom-up way, Schumer suggested that perhaps some federal fertilizer was in order. Capital New York's Dana Rubinstein captures the relevant exchange between Schumer and Bloomberg:

"It's not very expensive, so the mayor and I are talking maybe we can do this for the whole city," said Schumer, who had downloaded his talking points to his iPad using the new Wi-Fi.

"With federal money, we'd love to do it," said Bloomberg.

"Excellent," said Schumer. "It would be a smidgen of what Sandy is costing us."

This post has been updated.

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

First POST: Scary Monsters

Facebook opens up about its experiments on tweaking voting behavior; breaking news in the FCC net neutrality battle; getting hard data on civic tech's impact on political efficacy; and much, much more. GO

thursday >

First POST: System-Gaming

Why techies interested in political reform are facing challenges; the latest data on Democratic voter contacts in 2014; Hungary's anti-Internet tax demonstrations are getting huge; and much, much more. GO

wednesday >

First POST: Gimme Shelter

The link between intimate partner violence and surveillance tech; the operational security set-up that connected Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden; how Senate Dems are counting on tech to hold their majority; and much, much more. GO

tuesday >

First POST: Tribes

Edward Snowden on the Internet's impact on political polarization; trying to discern Hillary Clinton's position on NSA reform; why Microsoft is bullish on civic tech; and much, much more GO

monday >

First POST: Inventions

How voter data-sharing among GOP heavyweights is still lagging; why Facebook's News Feed scares news publishers; Google's ties to the State Department; and much, much more. GO

friday >

First POST: Spoilers

How the GOP hasn't fixed its tech talent gap; the most tech-savvy elected official in America, and the most tech-savvy state-wide candidate; and much, much more. GO

More