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Bloomberg Announces Largest U.S. Outdoor Public WiFi Network in Harlem

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, December 10 2013

Rachel Haot, Geoffrey Canada, Rahul Merchant, Mayor Bloomberg & Amanda and Glenn Fuhrman making the announcement (Mayor/Flickr)

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the launch of the country's largest continuous outdoor free public WiFi network in Harlem Tuesday afternoon. The outdoor network, which will cover 95 city blocks and be accessible to around 80,000 Harlem residents, including 13,000 in New York City Housing Authority buildings, is made possible through a $2 million donation from Amanda and Glenn Fuhrman, co-founder of MSD Capital, through the Fuhrman Family Foundation.

Bloomberg made the announcement at the Harlem Children's Zone, site of the high-profile charter schools located in the zone covered by the WiFi network. The first phase of the WiFi network is scheduled to be completed this December, with the second and third phases of the project scheduled to be completed in February and May 2014. Reporters at Tuesday's press conference could already access the WiFi. The network will have a minimum speed of 2mbps, according to Chief Information and Innovation Officer Rahul Merchant.

In his remarks, Bloomberg praised the public-private partnership behind the project. "We talk a lot about closing the digital divide, and Glenn and Amanda are actually doing something about it...we didn't go to them, they came to us," he said.

The network expands on a WiFi program the city announced in September, the Wireless Corridor Challenge. That program, run by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, also entails public-private partnerships sponsoring WiFi, including along 125th Street in Harlem, in Long Island City, Downtown Brooklyn, and the Financial District.

The Fuhrmans' donation, which went to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, is initially funding the network for five years, with the Sky-Packets firm providing the technology. The NYC Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications is overseeing the implementation of the network, along with the NYC Technology Development Corporation, a non-profit that helps manage the city's technology projects and which the Bloomberg administration established in August 2012.

At Tuesday's press conference, Fuhrman said he and his wife were inspired by reading about free WiFi plans from Google, which announced a network in Chelsea at the beginning of the year, and then reached out to the Mayor's Office about sponsoring a network in Harlem.

He highlighted how had he been involved with the details of the project. Realizing the importance of access to buildings throughout the area to make the coverage possible, he said he reached out to property owners he knew in the area who "enthusiastically offered all their buildings for free forever" for the project. Fuhrman said the project reflected his and his wife's love of New York City, their belief in the power of technology and the importance of education, while he said his wife also hoped residents and visitors would use the network to order local food.

Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, said at the press conference Tuesday that while his organization has invested a significant amount of money in using technology to address the digital and educational divide, "we kept running into this problem of families not being able to gain access to the Internet," he said, making it difficult for students to search for information when not in school and for families to pay their bills. He called the WiFi network a "dream come true," noting that it would also make it easier to communicate with parents about homework assignments.

A group of high school students at the school will have the opportunity to work with Showtime Networks on a marketing plan for the WiFi network and on outreach to local businesses and residents. "There are literally thousands of young people whose lives will be enriched," Canada said.