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City Council Studies the Digital Divide

Bay Ridge Center was invited to testify on "Broadband and the Digital Divide" before a virtual meeting of the New York City Council's Committee on Technology combined with the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises on October 13, 2020.


As introduced by Zoning and Franchises Chair, Council Member Moya, the meeting was held because:

Technology Committee Chair, Council Member Holden, added:

Following is the text of the testimony given by Bay Ridge Center staff member David Dring, or read it as a PDF with footnotes to citations and his additional documents here. You can also watch the complete 4-hour hearing online. Jump to David's testimony at 3 hrs 47 minutes.


ORAL TESTIMONY


Hello and thank you for the opportunity to testify on the importance of low-cost high-speed connectivity and bridging the digital divide. I’m David Dring, Director of Innovative Programs for Older Adults, at Bay Ridge Center. We serve over 1,000 older New Yorkers in the Southwestern corner of Brooklyn through home delivered meals, senior center activities, and operating a neighborhood naturally occurring retirement community.


When the pandemic halted in-person programming at our center, we acted quickly to launch virtual programs and have done 670 through September 30, 2020 to over 5,700 older adults. We estimate there are still 3,000 older adults that may like to participate if they had the technology or were properly trained and supported.


We witnessed the impact of our virtual programs on our clients in many ways. There were clients who said they were going stir crazy and these classes helped them manage their isolation better. There were clients who lost loved ones and these classes were a lifeline in managing their grief. Our meditation and exercise classes are popular with our clients whom have told us they want to keep their bodies as well as minds flexible and open so that they can adapt and handle these challenging times.


I want to praise the State for the “Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act” (A.6679C Ryan/S.8805 Metzger). It states “the legislature hereby finds and declares that access to high-speed Internet is a fundamental right and it is incumbent upon the State to ensure provision of this right to every New Yorker.” I would encourage the City Council to call upon Governor Cuomo to seriously considering signing it into law.


It’s terrific to hear that “access to high-speed Internet is a fundamental right.” Unfortunately, it does not read access to affordable high-speed Internet connectivity.


We surveyed our members in March and discovered that 40% are without connectivity. For too many older adults, the cost of connectivity it more than they can bear on their fixed income. After all, this was never a cost that they anticipated in their financial planning.


In order for connectivity to be a fundamental right for all, it must be affordable for all (the 3rd principle of the Mayor’s Internet Master Plan). While there are low-income programs from Spectrum and Verizon, their eligibility and monthly charges do not make them accessible.


For example, Spectrum’s Internet Assist program requires the income to be at or below Supplemental Security Income (only $803) per month. Even the poverty level for one person is greater than that ($1,063). Still both are too low for the near poverty seniors to participate. Additionally, Spectrum denies anyone who is a current customer. Many older adults have cable provided for them by their family. This further and unnecessarily complicates access.


Bay Ridge Center would be delighted to partner with City Council, and the Mayor’s Office among others to pilot new low-cost Internet connectivity options for older adults. Then we can ensure connectivity is a fundamental right. Afterall, connectivity is an essential ingredient to bridging the digital divide.


Bay Ridge Center is a 501c3 nonprofit organization funded by the NYC Department for the Aging, the NY State Office for the. Aging and by philanthropic donors to ensure the safety and wellbeing of older New Yorkers in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY. Marianne Nicolosi (email: mnicolosi@bayridgecenter.org) is the Executive Director. For more information, please contact 718.748.0650 or visit www.BayRidgeCenter.org.


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