Hooked up! Free wifi coming to Red Hook Houses

Hooked up! Free wifi coming to Red Hook Houses
Community News Ggroup / Max Jaeger

High-speed internet is coming to Red Hook’s public housing projects — but it is loading at the pace of a dial-up modem.

The city is planning to blast free wifi throughout the Red Hook Houses, the borough’s largest public housing development — but residents will have to wait until at least next year before they can log on, Mayor DeBlasio announced on July 16.

One resident says he’ll be happy when the complimentary cyberspace access finally arrives so he can use the money he currently spends on internet access for essentials.

“I’d probably spend it on food, laundry detergent — things you need on a daily basis,” said Laurenzo Reed.

The Hook-up is part of a planned $10-million project that will bring free internet to nearly 16,000 residents in public housing throughout the city, officials said. DeBlasio intends to first roll the program out in a Queens housing project by 2016, then bring the Red Hook Houses online sometime after that, he said.

The city plans to hand each unit in the housing development its own mobile wifi device from telecommunications company Sprint. The residents should then be able to surf the information superhighway at speeds of 25 megabits per second — the federally mandated minimum for classifying a connection as “broadband” and the minimum recommended speed for watching Netflix in “ultra high-definition” quality.

But it isn’t about viewing “House of Cards” without buffering breaks, say local officials — internet access is something all New Yorkers need for education and job-hunting, and the free wifi will ensure that the 6,500 people living in the Red Hook Houses aren’t left behind in the digital age.

“The truth is that internet access is not a luxury of the rich, but a necessity of the many,” said Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Red Hook). “Low-income residents should not be paying premium prices for this important service.”

People in public areas and streets near the Red Hook Houses will also be able to access the no-fee network, which will include privacy protections and parental controls, said mayoral counsel Maya Wiley.

And when the city finally flips the switch, Reed says the connection will complement a free wifi network that he and other members of community group the Red Hook Initiative have been building on the neighborhood’s streets since 2012.

“It would be great if they linked up with the Red Hook Wifi,” said Reed, who also works for the Red Hook Initiative and has been building the ad-hoc local network for seven months. “Right now the connection we have is on outer skirts of the houses.”

But the city has yet to find a contractor to set up the infrastructure for the project, so it is not yet clear whether third-party networks like the Red Hook Initiative’s will be able to link up with internet in the public housing complex, a mayoral spokesman said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeg[email protected]glocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.