BetaNYC’s Testimony to NYC Council’s Technology Committee — Oversight Hearing on LinkNYC

To: NYC Council – Committee on Technology
From: Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC
Re: Link NYC Oversight Hearing
Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Chairman Koo & the Committee on Technology,

BetaNYC has fully supported Mayor Bloomberg’s and Mayor de Blasio’s reinvention of the municipal payphone. We are excited to see how Link NYC has transformed the urban landscape and helped bridge the digital divide. Five years into the deployment of Link NYC we have a few observations and concerns.

Link NYC positives:

  • Devices bridge the digital divide and provide public internet access.
  • Advertising has funded public housing connectivity.
  • Links have become dynamic billboards of community information.
  • Links are frequently advertising community board meetings.
  • During this last participatory budgeting cycle, constituents could vote through the kiosks.
  • While subway service statuses are frequently available, we are super excited to support CM Lander’s call for turning Links into BusTime countdown clocks.
  • Lastly, it is great to see that Links are used to provide updates on school closures and alternate side parking suspension.
  • The desire to advertise community board websites on links has become a forcing factor to get community boards to have mobile friendly websites.
  • Lastly, we heard from several community members that Links are helping run fiber across the city into areas that don’t have fiber.

Link NYC concerns:

  • This is a lack of clarity around how the Links watch the streets. We’ve heard conflicting stories about cameras, microphones, bluetooth beacons, and air quality sensors. To build the public’s trust, it is paramount that CityBridge details exactly what is in the machine, how those tools are used to secure the machine, and where that data goes — all of this information needs to be on the Link NYC website.
  • Lack of transparency or public participation around updating the privacy policy. We’ve already seen one privacy policy revision and echo Electronic Frontier Foundation’s statement “[there are] no means for New Yorkers to participate in decisions about how data from Link kiosks will be used, with whom it will be shared, for how long it will be retained, or whether the parameters under which it is initially collected might conceivably expand in the future.”
  • Clarity affordability for local businesses to advertise on Links. Right now, there is very little transparency on who is advertising on Links and how much revenue is generated by municipal advertisements. On the LinkNYC website, advertising packages should be clear and affordable. Are they still cost prohibitive for local businesses?

Council Opportunities:

Some BetaNYC community members have expressed the desire for Council to make LinkNYC focus their installations into underserved neighborhoods — every NYCHA development should be ringed with Links — there should be Links outside of every library, school, community board district office, council member district office, and senior center — any place that routinely hosts community meetings should have a link.

Fundamentally, Links bring more than wi-fi. These high speed internet connections provide BetaNYC the foundation to host our digital civics trainings. We need Links to be conveniently located so we can empower more New Yorkers with digital literacy.

Lastly, Links help cover the city in high-speed fiber. This provides opportunities for local businesses to tap and provide conduits for future expansion. As Council hosts future oversight hearings, conversations around fiber and public access to that fiber should be included.

Thank you.

Link to PDF Testimony – 2018.04 – Link NYC oversight hearing


To: NYC Council – Committee on Technology
From: Community Testimony via Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC
Re: Link NYC Oversight Hearing

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Chairman Koo & the Committee on Technology,

As with any networked infrastructure, the LinkNYC franchise must be considered as one element of a federated system. This is true both in terms of the physical infrastructure, and in terms of the fiscal structure.

The franchise agreement requires:

That the Link kiosks must have sufficiently robust backhaul to offer high-speed service

That a portion of advertising revenue should go towards supplying low-cost or free service for particular populations and/or areas

The most visible part of the franchise comprises the Link kiosks themselves, which a free outdoor public WiFi option. However, in order for the kiosks to operate, they must be connected to high-speed, high-capacity internet “backhaul” or data pipes. Based on Link’s stated gigabit goal, these backhaul systems will be fiberoptic (since neither cable, nor DSL has high enough capacity to supply future-ready gigabit connections).

The City’s franchise requires that the franchise holder (CityBridge/Intersection) must ensure that backhaul is available at kiosk sites, so in order to build and operate Links, CityBridge/Intersection must contract with backhaul providers. In many cases, especially in areas with less robust telecommunications infrastructure, this means that new fiber optic cables must be laid to serve the kiosks.

While the backhaul lines themselves are owned by a third-party provider, the fact of laying the fiber means that the streets must be dug up in many cases and new conduit laid. The “sunk cost” of building out this infrastructure falls to CityBridge/Intersection and/or their third-party provider, and is not absorbed by the City. So in a sense, the kiosks themselves are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the capacity being added to telecommunications systems. The expansion of high-capacity fiber networks in the City provides further possibilities to contract with the backhaul providers to create other modes of access (beyond the Links themselves).

In terms of advertising revenue, the franchise requires that a percentage go towards supplying low-cost or free wireless, in particular in NYCHA developments (so far, in the Queensbridge development and underway at Mott Haven). In this way, aside from the wireless offered by the Link kiosks, they are also revenue-generators for other City efforts to connect the underconnected.

Overall, in order for the LinkNYC program to work for NYC residents, City Council should advocate that:

Backhaul systems created to supply connections to the kiosks are opened up for other franchising and private-sector opportunities, in order to fill out the access ecosystem for different modes of access, possibly through other City redevelopment and infrastructure improvements (DoT, DCP, EDC etc.)

The kiosks should be activated for community events and arts etc. programming, in order to increase engagement and interaction, which could create more demand for the advertising space and in turn increase revenues available for building low-cost connectivity throughout the City.

The Links should be considered part of a much larger integrated and overlapping ecosystem of digital access. There are many opportunities to leverage both the physical and fiscal resources created as a result of the franchise.

Thank you,

A member of the BetaNYC community

PDF Testimony – 2018.04 – Link NYC oversight hearing from Community