By Alicia Venter
The Queens Gigabit Center held its grand opening on Friday, Dec. 2 in the Allen Senior Center in Jamaica. In an attempt to bridge the digital divide in New York City — where two in five households lack either a home broadband connection or mobile broadband — the center will bring free high-speed internet access and access to computers to the seniors at the center.
This is the third Gigabit Center in New York City, and the first in Queens. The center was created in partnership between Office of Technology and Innovation and LinkNYC, a free public Wi-Fi network with kiosks across the city that provide Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging among other services.
The opening was held to a crowd of approximately 100 senior citizens, who were encouraged to connect to the internet. Members of LinkNYC and staff of the center were available to help the attendees who were struggling to access the service.
Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez serves as the commissioner for the New York City Department for the Aging, and she expressed how access to the internet at the center will help eliminate the barriers that the older population faces in the city.
“When anyone does anything in particular communities like this one to just equal the playing field, to bring technology to the level that many other communities enjoy, it is a gift,” Cortés-Vázquez said.
The digital divide, she shared, was devastating on the older community during the pandemic. Through the ingenuity she attributed to the New York City Chief Technology Officer Matthew Fraser and the directors of senior centers in the city, she applauded the speed in which programming transitioned to virtual.
“We knew that virtual programming for some is just a technical skill. For us, it broke social isolation,” she said “We know that social isolation is one of the hardest things that older adults can experience. We know it hurts us mentally and can affect us physically.”
Firing in at 800 megabits per second (Mbps), the free high-speed internet at the Gigabit Center is 32 times faster than low-end broadband internet. As defined by the Federal Communications Commission, internet speeds must be 25 Mbps or greater to be considered broadband.
The internet is provided by LinkNYC, with numerous high-ranking members of the organization attending the grand opening.
“To the older adult members who are here with us today, I want to welcome you to this space that was created specifically for you,” Nicole Robinson-Etienne – Director Of External Affairs LinkNYC. “At LinkNYC, we believe that high-speed internet connectivity is not a luxury. It’s a necessity to modern life.”
Through a public-private partnership with the city of New York, LinkNYC installs kiosks with free services, CEO Nick Colvin shared with the Leader-Observer.
Currently, LinkNYC is working to expand 5G coverage to communities in need. Currently, about 100 Link5G kiosks have been deployed throughout the city — approximately 90 percent of the locations are to be deployed outside of Manhattan or above 96th Street.
Quantity is important, since 5G uses a high-frequency wavelength that struggles to connect through buildings or skyscrapers. LinkNYC says users can connect within 750 feet of the kiosks.
“For LinkNYC, we are a mission-driven organization. We believe that access to the internet is a human right. It is necessary to fully participate in society,” Colvin said. “That’s really the core of what we do. It’s really to bring free internet to as many people in New York as we can.”
Evette Ennis serves as the Vice Chair of the Allen Community Non-Profit Board and the Greater Allen Development Board, and spoke on behalf of the center.
“We are extremely thankful and honored that our senior center was chosen as the Queens Gigabit Center,” Ennis shared. “This will provide greater access and equity to all.”