All summer, kids have been hanging out in front of the Morris Park Library in the Bronx, before opening hours and after closing. They bring their computers to pick up the Wi-Fi signal that is leaking out of the building, because they can’t afford internet access at home. They’re there during the school year, too, even during the winter — it’s the only way they can complete their online math homework. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission reaffirmed what these students already knew: Access to broadband is necessary to be a productive member of society. In June, a federal appeals court upheld the commission’s authority to regulate the internet as a public utility.
The court’s decision is a partial victory. While the ruling ensures that the information superhighway can be maintained for the public interest, it doesn’t help anyone who simply can’t afford to have access to it. As many as one in five Americans remains in the digital dark. To start to tackle that problem, the F.C.C. has recently expanded its Lifeline program to provide subsidies for broadband access. Here in the world’s information capital, New Yorkers are still scrounging for a few bars of web access, dropped like crumbs from a table. With broadband costing on average $55 per month, 25 percent of all households and 50 percent of those making less than $20,000 lack this service at home.