Wednesday, March 2, 2022

New Gigabit Center In NYC Harlem Hopes To Bridge Digital Divide

For Clayton Banks and Silicon Harlem, this was long in the making. Banks, CEO of Tech Infrastructure Company, Silicon Harlem, envisioned Seven years ago a gigabit-powered Wi-Fi Center to help create a Tech Hub in Upper Manhattan, where in some Neighborhoods up to 40% of Residents do Not have Broadband. On Monday that Center officially Opened as a Partnership involving the Operator of the LinkNYC Wi-Fi kiosks, New York City, Silicon Harlem, and the C-Better Foundation.

The Center, at West 148th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, provides what Silicon Harlem said is the Fastest Free Public Wi-Fi in the City. "So many of us, from preschoolers to seniors, can use some help learning digital literacy," Banks said. "That is what innovation centers can do."

The Innovation Space for People, as the 2,800-square-foot Center is called, offers Coworking Desks, after-school Programing, Events space, and Public Access to 20 Computers. It was designed by Silicon Harlem in Collaboration with Creative Studio Ground Up.

Matthew Fraser, Mayor Eric Adams’ (D) Chief Technology Officer, attended a Ribbon-Cutting for the Center on Monday. He said the Fast and Free Wi-Fi “not only has the potential to transform Harlem into a tech and innovation hub, it can also serve as an engine for increasing quality jobs, lowering unemployment and reducing violent crime.”

The opening of the Harlem Gigabit Center marks a New step in a Restart of LinkNYC, the Public-Private effort to Build a Citywide Network of Kiosks providing Free Public Wi-Fi. The Franchise Agreement awarded to LinkNYC Operator, CityBridge in 2014, included a Provision to build a Gigabit Center in 5 Boroughs, which in Manhattan was to be done in Partnership with Silicon Harlem.

CityBridge stalled out with installing the Wi-Fi Kiosks in 2018, when the Digital Ad Sales intended to Finance the Program fell well Short of Expectations. The Gigabit Centers never materialized. Last year, ZenFi Networks, a Telecom Infrastructure company, agreed to Invest $200 million in CityBridge, to use the Structures to Expand 5G Cellular Coverage, positioning LinkNYC to build New Kiosks for the First time in three years. The City approved that Plan in the summer of 2021.

Banks said the Center is Opening the Conditions of the Pandemic, Working and Learning from Home, have more People paying attention to the Digital Divide.

"Connectivity is still lacking in so many areas and now since Covid, everybody has finally got what I've been saying for years, like, ‘Wait a minute, some people don't have internet?'" Banks said.

Silicon Harlem was selected last year, to work with the City, on the former de Blasio Administration's Internet Master Plan, installing Broadband in Three Public Housing buildings.

CityBridge, meanwhile, is hoping to soon start Installing the Newly designed 5G-enabled LinkNYC Kiosks, although it still needs Final Approvals to place the Taller Kiosks on Residential Streets. Four Boroughs still do Not have a Gigabit Center.

"I’m proud of what we, the city and CityBridge did to make this happen. But we are going to stay on them still," Banks said. "This is something that needs to be done in every borough."

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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