Digital divide! Bloomberg’s park WiFi plan cuts off southern Brooklyn

Digital divide! Bloomberg’s park WiFi plan cuts off southern Brooklyn
Photo by Tom Callan

Southern Brooklyn is on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Mayor Bloomberg announced that the city and AT&T would provide free wireless services in 20 parks, including Prospect Park, McCarren Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

But none of those locations are south of 15th Street — and that has Southern Brooklyn residents from Windsor Terrace to Sheepshead Bay feeling digitally duped.

Bloomberg defended the program in a weekly radio address, saying it would give New Yorkers a reason to “get outside and enjoy our beautiful parks,” while also doing their work in them.

“And on a nice summer day, there’s simply no better place in the world,” said Bloomberg, who made his fortune building technology to help the financial industry.

“We’re digitally behind — there’s already little bandwidth here and the phone service is terrible,” said Renee Giordano, executive director of the Sunset Park BID. “We need to bring free Wi-Fi to the commercial strip and Sunset Park, and bring the community up to par with other neighborhoods.”

A Parks Department spokesman said that AT&T’s wireless contract does not preclude the city from expanding Wi-Fi to other parks through other arrangements, but there are no plans to do so at this time.

As a result, the digital chasm between North and Southern Brooklyn could widen. Studies have shown that individuals without high-speed Internet services are at a disadvantage for developing skills that would enable them to participate in the country’s increasingly digital economy.

One of the most common barriers to accessing the Internet is affordability, according to the Federal Communications Commission, an obstacle that the city’s WiFi plan would remove.

Unless you’re in Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge or Asser Levy Seaside Park in Coney Island, two of the dozens of tranquil places in the borough where you won’t be able to get a wireless signal.

The webless blame the city for putting wireless in more affluent parts of Brooklyn and not in working-class and middle-class Bay Ridge.

“If they’re going to phase it in, that’s fine, but they’re going to exclude some parts permanently, I don’t think that’s good,” said Carroll Gardens resident Otto Lombardo.

Even Park Slope resident Tim Lotherington, who said he would use his computer in Prospect Park, expressed his sympathy that his southern neighbors couldn’t connect.

“If you’re going to do it in some parks, why not do it in all parks?” said Lotherington. “It seems like a bit of a strange decision.”

But not everyone thinks wireless in Brooklyn parks is a good idea.

Southern Brooklyn resident Beth Shaferman thinks the city should just scrap wireless programs entirely because it makes society “more socially awkward.”

“No one’s gonna talk anymore,” Shaferman. “They don’t talk anymore as it is.”