After ignoring an offer from school bus companies for months, the city will finally explore whether the vehicles can be used to deliver Wi-Fi to students living in homeless shelters who can’t connect to online classes, officials told The Post.
“We are actively exploring all options, including Wi-Fi on buses,” a City Hall spokesman said Friday.
The move comes with other promises by Mayor de Blasio in the wake of embarrassing news reports that some 13,000 children live in 250 city homeless shelters lacking Wi-Fi for remote learning.
The city has distributed 340,000 iPads with unlimited cellular data plans, but at least 215 kids living in shelters have called the Department of Education to report problems with connectivity. Discovering many other kids lacked Wi-Fi as well, the city has switched cell service on 995 iPads from T-Mobile to Verizon.
But that has not solved all the problems.
After city schools shut down in mid-March during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department of Education halted payments to bus companies.
The companies offered various services such as transporting hospital workers, delivering PPE and turning buses into Wi-Fi hotspots for students to access online learning, like cities across the country began doing successfully.
“They never heard back,” a company spokesman said. “They received no answer — but it is a standing offer.”
While equipping buses with a Wi-Fi router and parking it near a building in need has worked elsewhere, “the density, scale and construction of New York City buildings pose significant challenges to the propagation of reliable Wi-Fi signals into shelters,” city officials said.
But they acknowledged it has not yet been tried in NYC.
The news was welcomed by Advocates for Children, a nonprofit organization that has highlighted the Wi-Fi problem for needy kids.
“We should explore all options because the alternative is children missing out on school this year, and that is not acceptable,” said Randi Levine, the group’s policy director.
Mayor de Blasio has committed to a long-term plan to provide Wi-Fi service in all apartments in existing and planned homeless shelters that serve families with children But that project is complicated because many shelters lack cables. Completion is not expected until summer — after the current school year ends.
Councilman Ben Kallos suggested hooking up Wi-Fi to TV cables in a shelter’s common area, but officials say the COVID-19 crisis raises health and safety concerns. Levine agreed that it still could be an option in shelters with large recreation areas where students can be socially distanced.