Off the hook! Southern Brooklyn gets short end of city Wi-Fi deal

Colton to Bloomberg: Smash the digital divide!
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Brooklyn’s digital divide is closing — but not by much.

A new city plan will extend wireless Internet service to four parks in Southern Brooklyn, but in a far reduced capacity compared to the program rolled out in northern Brooklyn in 2011.

The Parks Department flipped the switch on new Wi-Fi in Gravesend, Manhattan, and Marine parks, and in Steeplechase Plaza in Coney Island on July 16. But the service is not the same unlimited, no-pay variety that allows parkgoers in Prospect, McCarren, Fort Greene, Herbert Von King, and Brooklyn Bridge parks to log on for as long as they like.

Instead, visitors to the Southern Brooklyn locations will be able to use the Internet free for three 10-minute sessions every 30 days. Southern Brooklynites wanting to use the service any longer than that will have to cough up 99 cents a day — amounting to almost $30 a month. City agencies defended the inequality, pointing out that AT&T volunteered to set up the Wi-Fi in select downtown greenspaces. But the southern Brooklyn hotspots are being provided by Cablevision as part of a deal with the city that allowed the company to lay cable under public streets. Cablevision also agreed to meet other city objectives, such as extending fiber-optic service to underserved sections of the borough.

“If anybody wanted to come in and wire these parks for free, we would welcome them with open arms,” said city spokesman Nicholas Sbordone.

Sbordone pointed out that this year’s deal will ensure wireless service through 2020 — as opposed to the 5-year time limit on the AT&T arrangement. The spokesman also noted that users with Cablevision accounts will be able to log in indefinitely.

Southern Brooklyn leaders have long sought to bring free wireless Internet their neighborhood greenspaces, arguing that only granting such a service to residents of the northern parts of the borough was a form of snobbery.

“This will help reduce the difference between those who are more wealthy and those who have less,” Assemblyman Bill Colton (D–Bensonhurst) wrote in a letter to former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe last year. “These residents are tax payers and feel entitled to a share of the city’s services.”

Colton pointed to studies showing 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.

“If people could use the Internet in a park it would be such a value in terms of their education,” the pol said.

No greenspaces in Colton’s district have received Wi-Fi yet, nor have any of the parks that ring Bay Ridge. But Sbordone said that the plan will eventually bring Wi-Fi to even more, as-yet-unannounced parks.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.