Clayton Banks in the Executive Director of Silicon Harlem, and not enough people know about the vital work that he and his team have been doing over the past five years. I’ve gotten to know Clayton over the past few months and I’m always impressed by his humility and influence in the Harlem community.
Over the past couple years, internet kiosks have popped up all over New York City, and there’s an interesting story behind why there are so many of these in Harlem. I sat down with Clayton this evening for the story. Below is an unedited transcript of our conversation.
“So LinkNYC is an initiative that’s being driven by a company called Intersection. And that company negotiated with the city and bid with the city to be able to deploy a gigabit speed outdoor network that is bringing internet to all communities throughout New York City. And in that contemplation, Silicon Harlem and myself and Bruce Lincoln my cofounder were able to testify at City Hall on behalf of LinkNYC. Because LinkNYC of course was in our opinion something needed in East Harlem, Central Harlem, and all throughout Upper Manhattan because many of our residents don’t have high speed. Some of them have zero speed because they don’t have broadband.
So we felt upper manhattan was an important area for these kiosks to be deployed. And typically with technology it’s deployed downtown first and then is slowly works its way up to uptown and the boroughs. By being at the table, by testifying, by getting to know them really well, we actually brought the prototypes of the LinkNYC into Harlem at MIST Harlem at one of our events so that they could get feedback from the community before they deployed. This was in 2015.
So we’ve been at this for a while. They took the time to come uptown to really understand and it was all because we were pushing for it. We really believed in it and when you go to one of these kiosks, it’s the fastest internet connection anywhere, meaning whether it’s your home or your office, your phone, the kiosk, within 200 feet, is the fastest you’ll ever get.
So you fast forward to where we are in 2017, and you look at the complete deployment of LinkNYC kiosks: Upper Manhattan—Harlem in particular—has more kiosks than any other part of New York City. There’s over 100 kiosks deployed in Harlem. Everywhere you walk, you can run into these kiosks—there’s four on Adam Clayton Powell and 125th street. So you’re looking at a real commitment by the city and by Intersection and certainly to some degree Silicon Harlem to ensure that these are available to our community.
Furthermore, they’re starting to use those kiosks to help build community. To help build the pride, build the ongoing culture that resides in Harlem, and what’s wonderful about that is we’ve been able to negotiate with them to put up a Black History Month pictorial of black inventors, famous legendary black leaders on those kiosks. And they’re putting up a new individual every single day. So this is a way to expose our history to millions and millions of people.
And oh by the way, over a million people have registered on those kiosks. When you go to log on to the wifi, you have to put in your email. So when they track that, over a million people have done it. That’s no small thing. So it’s a successful rollout.”