Proposed City Council bill would provide free internet to tenants

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Rob Young | Wikimedia Commons

Alexandra Nita

In New York, landlords are legally required to provide tenants heat and hot water, but they may soon need to provide something else as well: free internet.

New York City Council member Ben Kallos, a Democrat who represents the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island, introduced a bill on Oct. 7 that would provide free broadband internet to residents of multifamily buildings with 10 or more units.

The bill specifies that owners of these buildings would be required to install the wiring necessary to create “at least one port for ethernet cable connection in every living room.” If the bill is passed, all buildings will have to be compliant by Jan. 1, 2026.

“Every New York City apartment comes with heat, hot water, electricity, and a phone line. It’s time to add internet, so it is there and just works when a tenant moves in,” Kallos said in a statement, according to News 10 ABC.

Kallos touted the bill as an important step in bridging the digital divide and referred to a 2021 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that studied the possible correlation between internet access and vaccination rates in New York.

The results found that “COVID-19 vaccination was significantly associated with household internet access” and that “Most disparities were in the Bronx and Brooklyn.” It cited a study from the same year published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities on the accessibility of digital health information in older adults to posit that “the digital health divide is associated with age, education, income, and race/ethnicity.”

The bill’s most prominent opponents are landlords.

Jay Martin, who is an executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlord association, asserted that the bill was “yet another unfunded mandate on rent-stabilized housing providers,” according to News 10 ABC. Martin also opposed the passage of Albany

Common Council’s “good cause eviction” measure, which limits annual rent increases to 5% and includes other provisions that make it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants.

The wording of Kallos’s proposed bill, however, specifically makes provisions for financial assistance to landlords, stating that “the department of housing preservation and development shall assist owners” by providing financial help to landlords in need.

Time Out also noted that landlords could purchase a bulk rate service contract with internet service providers. This would allow them a more than 50% discount on retail fees that could bring the monthly cost per apartment down to as low as $14.95.

Another potential setback in passing the bill is the fact that Kallos has fewer than two months left of his term. The New York City Council is comprised of 51 members and 34 of them are termlimited and will have to leave office by the end of 2021. Democrat Julie Menin defeated Republican Mark Foley in the general election to become Kallos’s successor.

Kallos ran in the 2021 Manhattan borough president primary but was eliminated in the second to last round of ranked choice voting, with fellow Council member Mark Levine winning both the nomination and the election in November.

The future of Kallos’s bill ultimately rests in the hands of the newly-elected council members, one of whom has shown interest: Democrat Julie Won of District 5’s website lists “free Wi-Fi” as a campaign priority.