Melrose and Courtlandt Avenue developments are the first of five NYCHA community WiFi projects the BlocPower coalition has completed as part of Mayor de Blasio’s Internet Master Plan
More than 2,500 residents at two NYCHA developments in one of the most underserved communities in NYC will now have access to low-cost, high-speed broadband for school, work, information, communication and recreation
NEW YORK – November 29, 2021 – BlocPower, a leading national decarbonization company focused on greening aging urban buildings and bridging the digital divide, today announced the completion of two of five major community-owned WiFi installations under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Internet Master Plan with coalition partners Metro IAF and People’s Choice Communications (PCC). Starting today, more than 2,500 residents of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Melrose and Courtlandt Avenue housing developments will be able to access high-speed broadband internet, at low- or no-cost, over a community-owned WiFi network leveraging the coalition’s unique multi-stakeholder cooperative model.
BlocPower was one of six companies chosen to execute Mayor de Blasio’s $157 million Internet Master Plan, which called for expanded internet service options for 600,000 underserved New Yorkers, including 200,000 NYCHA residents, to close the digital divide. BlocPower worked closely with the City of New York to help develop its community broadband strategy, and its model was also adopted as part of the Biden Administration’s infrastructure bill.
“We are incredibly excited today to bring this much-needed, low-cost WiFi alternative to Melrose and Courtlandt Avenue residents so that they can enjoy all the benefits of broadband access – for education, work, job training and job seeking, connecting with friends and relatives, communicating with healthcare professionals, or even streaming music or video content – without having to choose between Internet access or paying bills and putting groceries on the table,” said Donnel Baird, CEO of BlocPower. “What began as the by-product of our efforts to convert New York City’s aging, urban buildings into smarter, cleaner more eco-friendly ones, installing community-owned urban WiFi networks has now become an important part of BlocPower’s expanded mandate -- to help close the digital divide in America’s underserved communities.”
The project was completed by a coalition of BlocPower; Metro IAF, a network of hundreds of congregations and not-for-profits with members all across the nation; and PCC, a worker-owned telecommunications cooperative, with the help and leadership of Mayor de Blasio, NYCHA Chairman Gregory Russ, U.S. Representative Ritchie Torres and others. Through the coalition’s unique multi-stakeholder cooperative model, subscribers will gain an ownership stake in the network and a voice in its governance, with profits reinvested to fund its growth, maintenance, and future job training.
The Melrose and Courtlandt Avenue developments house more than 2,500 residents in more than 1,200 apartments across 10 buildings on 14 acres and are the first two of five NYCHA developments to receive WiFi upgrades from BlocPower, PCC and Metro IAF. The other Bronx NYCHA housing complexes to be upgraded include Forest, Morris I, and Morris II. Combined, the five projects will potentially provide Internet access to more than 10,000 residents.
At the start of the pandemic, Metro IAF saw the need for improved and affordable internet access amongst its constituents, particularly those who live in public housing projects. As such, it began to work with long-time partners BlocPower and PCC to develop a plan for expansion of access, outreach to tenants and building broader community support to ensure that everyone has a high quality, low-cost broadband option.
“Internet access is no longer a luxury, it's a right and a necessity,” said Fr. Sean McGillicuddy, Pastor of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church and a leader with Metro IAF. “Hundreds of my parishioners live in the Melrose and Courtlandt houses, and I’m thrilled that we have been able to work with key partners like BlocPower, PCC, and Representative Torres to help them and their neighbors get access to high quality internet they can afford.”
People’s Choice Communications installed the rooftop antennas and WiFi nodes on every floor, leveraging local NYC workers hired and trained through BlocPower’s Pathways program, a workforce development initiative contracted by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. PCC will provide network maintenance, billing, customer service and other functions to Melrose and Courtlandt Avenue residents, who will elect a board of advisors that will have a voice in decisions like data governance, service quality, and use of proceeds.
“Our worker cooperative was formed by technicians who have been on strike against Spectrum for over four years. During the pandemic, we decided to put our skills to work for our communities, providing them with low-cost Internet access and creating good-paying jobs,” said Troy Walcott, President, People’s Choice Communications. “Thanks to our coalition partners, the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, and the Affordable Connectivity Fund in the new infrastructure bill, starting today, Melrose and Courtlandt Avenue residents can get high-speed internet access for low or no-cost, with a voice in how their ISP is run, and with proceeds reinvested in their community.”
“When school was closed because of the pandemic, many children in our community couldn’t get to their classes because the internet was too expensive or the signal wasn’t good enough,” said Angela Medina, a Melrose resident working with Metro IAF, PCC and BlocPower to reach out and educate her neighbors about the program. “I’m proud to help ensure no one ever has to go through that again, and I am excited about the new lower price for Internet access, which will help so many people to afford things like food, medicine and other necessities.”
“The ongoing pandemic has deepened the digital divide and made it even clearer that access to the internet is a necessity that can no longer be a privilege afforded to a few. This initiative will ensure that thousands of public housing residents will be able to have affordable internet access and will start to bridge the digital divide,” said Representative Ritchie Torres (NY-15). “I’m proud to have worked with BlocPower, PCC and Metro IAF to ensure a successful buildout of the Wi-Fi infrastructure at this public housing development. It will truly make a major difference in the lives of the families and their children.”
BlocPower is a Brooklyn-based climate technology startup that is making American cities greener, smarter and healthier. Since its founding in 2014, the company has retrofitted more than 1,200 buildings in disadvantaged communities in New York City, with projects underway in 26 cities, including Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Oakland and more. BlocPower uses proprietary software for analysis, leasing, project management, and monitoring of clean energy projects that save customers between 20-70 percent on annual energy costs. For more information, please visit https://blocpower.io.
About Metro IAF
Metro IAF is affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the nation's first and largest network of multi-racial, multi-faith, broad-based citizens organizations. Metro IAF trains local institutional leaders to build non-partisan, citizen’s organizations and develops these leaders to act on issues facing their communities: housing, health care, education, living wages, immigration rights, internet access and others. Metro IAF's 26 affiliates are located in the North East, Midwest/Great Lakes, and Southeast. For more information, please visit https://Metro-iaf.org.
About People’s Choice Communications
People’s Choice Communications is an employee-owned cooperative formed by members of IBEW Local #3 to bridge the digital divide and help our neighbors get connected to the Internet. Our workers built a large part of New York City’s Internet infrastructure, and when Spectrum Communications pushed us to strike, we formed PCC in the summer of 2020 to use our skills and expertise to bring high-quality, low-cost broadband Internet access to our communities. Now, the networks we build will be cooperatively owned by the communities we serve. For more information about our low-cost broadband alternative, please visit https://peopleschoice.coop.