By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — Open-access advocates slammed an agreement between the city and two cable giants to charge users for wireless Internet in 32 parks at a City Council hearing Wednesday.
Under the plan, Time Warner and Cablevision subscribers would enjoy free WiFi service in parks across the city. However, non-subscribers would only be allowed to use the wireless service for three 10-minute sessions per month without charge, before being billed 99 cents a day after that.
The plan was part of a new franchise agreement reached in September, in which the cable giants agreed to share the $10 million bill for installing and running the network, the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) said.
DoITT Commissioner Carole Post said their goal was to help bridge the "digital divide" between those who have Internet access and those who don't.
She argued the agreement was "a sustainable model" for providing WiFi using experienced providers at no cost to the city.
"We think this plan is a win," she testified at the hearing called to examine the plan.
But Dana Spiegel, executive director of NYCwireless, which runs free wireless hot spots at locations including Madison and Tompkins Square Parks, slammed the plan, saying residents are getting a raw deal.
"I hate to say it, but DoITT is selling them out. They're not going to get what they're asking for," said Spiegel, who argued that the city could do significantly more with the $10 million if it could be used to fund initiatives by local business improvement districts and organizations like his.
"You're bargaining with the devil," he warned the Council," noting that the companies stand to earn hundreds of thousands in revenue each day by charging for wireless service.
Councilwoman Gale Brewer said that while she supported the goal of increasing Internet access for low-income New Yorkers, she had serious doubts about the proposal, including its reliance on credit cards to collect user fees.
"There's quite a few reasons that this business plan may not be successful in this goal," she said, adding, "I still would like to work for free."