LOWER EAST SIDE — It’s meant to bridge what’s called the digital divide — inequities in access to the internet based on income and geography — but how the city is providing 5G digital coverage to some residents is getting pushback from some of them.

That criticism is so strong that the New York City Council will hold hearings on the issue on Wednesday, and a protest is planned before the hearing gavels to order. 

The issue is the new generation LinkNYC 5G transmission towers have begun to be installed around the city.

The kiosks are three stories tall; most are in locations where phone booths used to be long ago. In other words, they’re relatively close to buildings and located across the five boroughs.

Walking past one of the towers on Second Avenue near the corner of 1st Street, people gave mixed reviews.

One passerby, who gave only his first name, Hani, said, “They need to change the infrastructure, but don’t have to go up and big.”

Kadija Kaba, who’d also walked past, gave a similar assessment. 

“They’re too tall,” she said. “More shorter is better. The city now, everything is tall. It’s too much.”

Leo Deer gave a mixed assessment.

“I don’t think I’ll walk down the street and say, ‘Damn, that’s a nice tower.’  But I won’t say, ‘Damn, that’s pretty ugly,'” Deer said.

A contractor with the city, Citybridge, LLC, started installing the 5G kiosks last year. Still, there’s been enough pushback — especially in historic districts, including Carnegie Hill on the Upper East Side and Lower East Side — that installation has slowed significantly. 

According to some community groups, that’s largely due to a letter sent by Rep. Jerrold Nadler to the chair of the FCC seeking a review by the agency to see if the towers have been installed in compliance with a federal historic preservation measure. The issue is expected to be discussed at Wednesday’s highly anticipated City Council hearing. 

It will be before the council’s technology committee, chaired by Councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez, representing District 34 in Brooklyn and Queens.  

“We have the largest number of people signed up to testify than we have ever had at any of our hearings,” Gutiérrez said in an interview.

She said she and her fellow council members are committed to equitable access to digital tools for their constituents. Still, at the same time, she’s hearing reactions from those same constituents about the 5G kiosks’ placement and appearance.

“It doesn’t really fit in,” she said that some constituents and others have said. “I don’t know where it can fit into the community. It stands out remarkably.”

Meanwhile, preservationists have had related concerns.

“Our question is which city agency signed off on the design of the towers,” said Frampton Tolbert, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council. “Was there community input in terms of how tall do they need to be, how big do they need to be?” he asked.

For its part, City Hall responded with a statement from a mayoral spokesperson:

“Mayor Adams believes that digital connectivity is a human right, necessary to fully participate and access opportunities in modern society. As part of our ongoing efforts to bridge the digital divide, Link5G ensures reliable, ultra-fast network speed and expanded mobile coverage are available to New Yorkers regardless of their zip code. We are also always working to ensure that the siting process for each kiosk includes robust public engagement – starting with written notice to relevant community leaders followed by a 60-day public comment period. New York City’s Office of Technology and Innovation has presented on the Link5G program before 20 community meetings and dozens of elected and local stakeholders, and we continue to look for more opportunities to engage with communities as we roll out this vital service to New Yorkers”

Mayor’s office spokesperson

The spokesperson also referenced a letter from some two dozen business leaders in the city, including the heads of the chambers of commerce for each borough, calling for widespread 5G LinkNYC access citywide.

Councilmember Gutiérrez said that all sides would be heard from in Wednesday’s hearing. However, some other cities have provided widespread 5G access using kiosks that are different sizes and shapes than those that have begun to be installed in the city.

The hearing is scheduled for midday on Wednesday.