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Five Ways New York City is Changing its Broadband Policy

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, June 21 2012

In a broad announcement today first unveiled by New York City Deputy Mayor Robert K. Steel, city officials rolled out a series of initiatives designed to widen the availability of broadband Internet access in the city.

The policy of local, state and federal politicians towards developing and managing Internet infrastructure is sure to become more and more important as what we have ages and ever more commerce moves online. A recent report by my old colleagues at the Center for an Urban Future pegged New York City as a leader in technology-industry growth but cited problems with broadband adoption as a key stumbling block. As metropolitan areas across the country look for solutions to generate economic growth in the face of a still-dismal business climate, the ability of Internet-powered businesses to accumulate capital and create job markets is surely attractive. But many people in the country — us included — have pointed out a mix of political, regulatory and economic problems that leave it uncertain if American cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston can retain their lead when it comes to innovative industries. The situation is particularly ironic for New York given that a primary hub for transcontinental Internet traffic lies in the city's TriBeCa neighborhood in lower Manhattan.

Coming just weeks after that report, these initiatives appear to be targeted pretty squarely at creating a climate in New York where businesses can get quick and easy access to broadband Internet — perhaps even if they're in a place where individual buildings aren't yet connected to high-speed lines.

The city has included an effort to bridge the "digital divide" in this release — a "competition to develop mobile applications that will help City residents access workforce development opportunities, jobs listings and worker support programs such as childcare, healthcare and transportation." In short, a way around the access to high-speed Internet, through a laptop, that low-income New Yorkers may not have.

Another initiative, which calls forth shades of the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Map, calls for the creation of an online map to document the state of Internet access in the city. The map will pull from a mix of public sources, data the city has or plans to get, and crowdsourced information about service quality.

But the main event in the release today is a plan to work with Time Warner Cable to fast-track bringing fiber-optic connections to small and medium-sized businesses that can demonstrate a need.

From the city's press release:

The initiatives that resulted from these conversations will be implemented over the course of the next several months, and include:

  • ConnectNYC: a competition to build out fiber connectivity for commercial and industrial buildings across the five boroughs. While the wiring of certain previously-underserved areas, like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is now underway, through ConnectNYC, the City will assist small and medium-sized businesses, including industrial businesses, in unwired or underwired buildings to apply for free fast-track wiring. Companies would apply through a competitive process that will make awards based on a demonstration of how additional connectivity would help them grow their business. The City is currently in advanced discussions with Time Warner Cable about partnering on this exciting program, which could help achieve the goal of wiring several hundred additional buildings in the City for high-speed internet. Time Warner has already made a substantial investment through its Business Class division in deploying fiber optics to many commercial districts in New York City. An announcement of a final agreement is anticipated the coming weeks that would ultimately lead to this shared goal.
  • WiredNYC: a building certification program that will evaluate the broadband infrastructure of New York City buildings in order to encourage and accelerate deployment of leading broadband technologies. This program will create transparency about broadband infrastructure in the commercial real estate market, giving businesses information about a building’s connectivity when choosing where to locate, and allowing landlords to market their buildings’ assets and compete for tenants. This program, and the associated grading standards, will be structured in partnership with both the real estate industry – represented by Rudin Management, Jared Kushner, and others – as well as the tech sector. WiredNYC will have a goal of cataloguing and ranking more than 300 commercial office buildings totaling more than 16 million square feet in the next two years.
  • NYC Broadband Connect Map: building upon the success of the Made in New York Digital Jobs Map recently released by Mayor Bloomberg and Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne, the NYC Broadband Connect map will fill knowledge gaps in the market. The Broadband Connect map will be a crowd-sourced, dynamic website in which businesses can learn about connectivity availability and capabilities in a given building or neighborhood. The map will incorporate multiple sources of data, such as the WiredNYC grades and information from several NYC fiber providers who are partnering with the City, including Optical Communications Group (OCG), Reliance Globalcom, Zayo and RCN. Finally, the most important source of information will be from businesses around the City that will share details on their current service, as well as the type of service they would ideally like to have in their buildings – allowing the City’s broadband companies to understand where the demand for service exists. This new resource for businesses will be launched by the end of 2012 by NYCEDC.
  • Broadband Express: the City, under the leadership of Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway and Citywide Chief Information and Innovation Officer Rahul Merchant, will, working in partnership with the NYC Department of Transportation, begin a process of simplifying operational issues as well as regulatory hurdles for Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The City will immediately identify a City point-person for ISP street operations permitting as well as other related issues. This position will help ensure that businesses get the service they need when they need it, and the City will soon begin to commit to processing all standard broadband-related street operations permits within two business days, on average, and gather data in order to be held accountable. This program could ultimately facilitate nearly 25,000 broadband-related permits in the next two years alone. In addition to immediately focusing on permitting, the City will also begin to explore the streamlining of additional broadband connectivity regulatory issues for ISPs in the future.
  • CitizenConnect: Building on the work that the City is already doing to target the “Digital Divide”, including the expansion of more than 100 free public computing centers across the five boroughs and the securing of tens of millions in federal Recovery Act monies to increase broadband access for public school students and families, NYCEDC and DoITT, in partnership with Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and the Department of Small Business Services (SBS), will create a competition to develop mobile applications that will help City residents access workforce development opportunities, jobs listings and worker support programs such as childcare, healthcare and transportation. These services typically require a computer or laptop, which many low-income City residents do not have access to in their homes. While residents seeking jobs can currently use computers at public computing centers across the five boroughs, including any one of the City’s 15 Workforce1 Centers, providing these unconnected communities with access to services via available mobile platforms – which have much higher penetration throughout the City than other forms of technology – will better connect the City and community based organizations and the services they provide to their clients. Working closely with the tech sector, this competition will bring together service delivery organizations as well as developers to brainstorm challenges and develop prototype solutions that will assist residents and increased economic opportunities.