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City Hall loses patience over LinkNYC delays

NYC’s DoITT commissioner called CityBridge “delinquent” over delays and payments relating to the LinkNYC programme.


New York’s City Hall may take court action against the consortium delivering the LinkNYC programme for installation delays and alleged money owed.


Jessica Tisch, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) Commissioner, said in a testimony to the Committees on Land Use and Technology about the Fiscal Year 2021 Preliminary Budget that CityBridge had failed to pay the city $30 million.


She said this was “against the backdrop of millions of dollars in advertising revenue that CityBridge has reported they received over the same time period.”


The digital kiosks are meant to replace payphones and offer free Wi-Fi and phone calls within the US, USB charging and tablet browsing, and are funded through advertising at no cost to the city.


Up to 10,000 Links are planned to be installed across New York’s five boroughs under the franchise agreement, and originally 4,500 were due to be installed by mid-2019. So far, 1,770 have been installed, with two of these awaiting a Wi-Fi connection. The programme is administered by the CityBridge consortium, including Qualcomm, CIVIQ Smartscapes and Intersection, a company which has Alphabet-owned Sidewalk Labs as an investor. Alphabet is Google’s parent company.





While Tisch said she had made some progress with getting the payphone removal portion of the contract moving again since taking on her role in December, she told the City Council hearing that installation of kiosks had halted in autumn 2018 and that the majority of the kiosks still owed to the city should be in underserved boroughs outside of Manhattan.


“New Yorkers who would benefit most from this service are not getting it…because CityBridge is delinquent,” she commented.


CityBridge has only paid the city $2.6 million of the $32.3 million owed in FY2019 and has so far paid nothing towards the $43.7 million expected in FY2020, she said.


“I am poised to take any and all necessary action against these multiple breaches of contract to collect the money the city is owed."


“I am poised to take any and all necessary action against these multiple breaches of contract to collect the money the city is owed,” said Tisch.


A CityBridge spokesperson told the New York Post that the remarks were “a fictional narrative that ignores the city’s responsibility for the current state of affairs.”


“While the public’s use of LinkNYC’s free services has far exceeded expectations, installing Links has proven more difficult and costly than expected – largely due to the city’s own rules and bureaucracy,” the spokesperson said. “For nearly two years, CityBridge has tried to work with the city to solve these problems, but we have been consistently met with silence and delay.


“CityBridge has maintained LinkNYC’s free services for the public – across all five boroughs – at no cost to users or taxpayers and is committed to the continued success and expansion of the programme.”


Tisch told the hearing the city had “gone out of its way over a number of years to work with [CityBridge] to address a number of burdens that it said were affecting its ability to perform.”


This included amending the agreement in 2018 to provide more time to build out the infrastructure and defer some of the revenue-based compensation owed.


"I believe the city has bent over backwards to...make things work,” she said. “I have no patience for it.”


Text-to-911 and 5G


“I have a bold vision for the future of technology in New York City and I am working on a plan to modernise the city’s technology infrastructure,” Tisch told the hearing at the beginning of her testimony.


Aside from LinkNYC, she also updated on a number of other programmes, including Text-to-911, saying that the service is “technology-ready”, tested and that training is underway, meaning it is likely to go live by June.


The goal of Text-to-911 is to open up 911 services to deaf and other New Yorkers unable to make voice calls. The service was originally due to go live in early 2018 but faced technology and integration delays.


"Next-gen 911 has the potential to be hands-down the most impactful new public safety system in the city of New York over the next decade."


“Next-gen 911 has the potential to be hands-down the most impactful new public safety system in the city of New York over the next decade,” Tisch said.


She also shared the latest details on 5G, which she said she had pledged to “fix” in the city.


“I am committed to working with the carriers and our agency partners to kickstart the 5G build-out across the city, and to doing so equitably and safely,” she commented.


In January, DoITT awarded 10 new telecommunications franchises to companies for the deployment of infrastructure to support the densification of 4G and the build-out of 5G. The franchises enable the use of city light poles and, for the first time, street furniture for the deployment of wireless facilities. The city will be opening a ‘pole reservation phase’ soon.


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