Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Nearly half the city’s residents who lack access to fiber optic internet are in Brooklyn

Dig into that dataset and more at an event hosted by the Mayor's Office next weekend that aims to increase digital access.

Brooklyn has a lot of fiber internet blackout zones.

(Screenshot via Carto)

If the recent election cycle has stoked a desire to up your civic engagement, here’s an event for you.
On Saturday, Nov. 19, the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library will be hosting a “broadband data dig” hackathon, which is sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, the Ford Foundation and Horowitz Research.
Through the event, city officials hope to get insights and recommendations from residents into possible strategies to expand and improve upon the city’s internet access, Joshua Breitbart, the mayor’s senior advisor for broadband, told Technical.ly. (We profiled Breitbart, a Brooklyn native, this summer.)
The event will run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and it is free to attend. It’s catered toward those with data analysis, research and visualization experience. Grab your tickets quickly: there are roughly 50 slots and about half of them have already been claimed.

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Of course, we’ve got to state upfront: broadband is likely not the most pressing political issue atop New Yorkers’ minds right now. Breitbart admitted as much, but, he said, the significant disparities in access and quality of internet throughout the city play a role in how we interact with each other.

“Technology is a way to strengthen relationships with our neighbors, and that’s essential for us to have as an inclusive city,” he said.

It’s also, of course, important to the future of the local tech scene. One of the data sets that will be used during the event, a map of consumer fiber internet availability throughout New York City built from FCC data, is available to peruse on Carto. It’s revealing: nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers live in areas without any fiber access at all, and roughly half of them are in Brooklyn.

Though many of those residents may have access to DSL or cable internet, neither of those technologies, for now, can reach the gigabyte-per-second download speeds of fiber. Brooklyn certainly has no problem attracting tech entrepreneurs right now, but keeping up with infrastructure is critical to maintaining and building upon its standing, Breitbart said.


While there isn’t a monetary prize at stake in Saturday’s hackathon, there will be a lucrative prize: getting the ear of the government. A judging panel of three will be evaluating the hacks that come out of the event, and up to three teams will be chosen to present their ideas to city officials, including Breitbart; Amen Ra Mashariki, the city’s chief analytics officer and Alphonso Jenkins, deputy commissioner for telecommunications planning at the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

One goal of the data dig, Breitbart told Technical.ly, is to gather ideas on how to best present the copious amounts of data regarding internet access to the public by identifying which topics are of most concern. The event will bring in data from various city sources, including the Brooklyn Public Library and the New York City Housing Authority, as well as the data the FCC collects on broadband availability. Participants will be able to mix and match those data sets to explore various correlations: for instance, is the fiber access gap a matter of economics or geography?

“Some of this is about what data is available at this point,” Breitbart said. “One of the outcomes of this event might be what we don’t know and could we know it?”

Though it’s Breitbart’s job to think about these questions on a regular basis, he said he believes it’s important to encourage residents to think about them as well. He said he hopes that the hackathon is a step toward bridging the communications gap between the wonks immersed in the granular details of policy and the New Yorkers those policies ultimately affect.

“This gives us an opportunity to engage the public in something that frequently seems invisible,” he said.

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