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NYC Announces Wifi, Broadband Initiatives and New Homepage

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, September 30 2013

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced two major wireless access and broadband initiatives throughout the city today, a day after the City of New York unveiled a redesign of its homepage over the weekend.

Areas in Downtown Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn's Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, Long Island City, Brownsville, Harlem, Roosevelt Avenue, Staten Island, the Bronx and the Flatiron District will get access to free public Wifi starting in December 2013 under the Wireless Corridor Challenge, a program of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

The EDC selected the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Alliance for Downtown New York/LaunchLM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, wireless provider Gowex and the Flatiron 23rd St. Partnership to develop plans for the wireless networks, and they will be responsible for installing the systems, partnering with sponsors, marketing the programs, and maintaining the free networks for a minimum of three years. Download speeds will be between 25 and 100 mbps on average, depending on area and usage, while upload speeds will be between 5 and 50 mbps, according to Patrick Muncie, NYCEDC VP for Public Affairs.

Funding for the program will come from $3.4 million in private sector commitments, according to a city press release, while the city will provide $900,000 for the implementation through the EDC. The winners of the challenge have developed sustainability plans to ensure the continuation of the wireless corridors beyond the city's initial investment, according to the press release. The corridors will benefit growing technology centers in Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City, more established technology centers in the Flatiron District, cultural and educational centers such as BAM, and low and middle income areas as well as New York City Housing Authority residents in Fort Greene and Brownsville, the press release noted.

Bloomberg also announced the launch of WiredNYC, a certification program that evaluates broadband connectivity infrastructure of office buildings in New York City, modeled after the LEED certification for sustainable buildings. Leaders in the real estate, technology, and telecommunications sectors worked together to develop the program's grading standards, according to the city press release. Jared Kushner, CEO of real estate company Kushner Companies, is overseeing the rollout and operations of the program. The WiredNYC platform lets users search for participating commercial buildings across the city.

Ten of the city's largest real estate owners have currently committed to participating in the program, with 150 buildings comprising 100 million square feet of office space, including 50 city-owned buildings. Other real estate companies participating include Rudin Management, SL Green Realty, Forest City Ratner, Vornado Realty Trust, Tishman Speyer, The Feil Organization, RXR Realty, Jamestown Properties, and Shorenstein, with a goal of having 500 participating buildings throughout the city. Groups that have endorsed the program include the Real Estate Board of New York, the Building Owners and Managers Association of New York, the Association for a Better New York, the Telecommunications Industry Association, the NY Tech Meetup and General Assembly.

The program is currently focused on office buildings because the needs of commercial tenants are often very complicated, said Arie Barendrecht, program director of WiredNYC. For example, he noted that many start-ups and other companies were very interested in having redundancies in case one system or network fails. But he said he wouldn't rule out incorporating residential buildings in the future, given the growing importance of tele-commuting and high-speed broadband for residential tenants.

"It's critical that tech companies start asking for this information from their landlords," Barendrecht said. "By having them pressing their building owners and landlords to get their buildings certified and be more transparent, we can really help convince the real estate community that this really matters."

Buildings with a Platinum certification, such as 3 Times Square, offer multiple sources and types of broadband connectivity, including fiber, receive service from multiple Internet service providers, have the infrastructure in place to handle service interruptions and have an established process in place for making agreements with Internet service providers and resolving disputes.

Over the weekend, the city had earlier unveiled the redesign of the City of New York's official website, a design which grew out of a July 2011 Reinvent hackathon, which the city held in partnership with General Assembly. The city used the winning designs of the hackathon as reference points in its official Request for Proposals for the design update, selecting Brooklyn-based design firm HUGE to lead the overhaul.

The city's press release notes that HUGE conducted research through discussions with New Yorkers about their interactions with government and the existing site, reviewed content and behavior analytics and reviewed other city government websites in addition to communicating with many stakeholders and constituencies within the government, and testing prototypes with New Yorkers before launching.

"The new site design is user-centric and easily navigated via an intuitive, data-informed interface," the city's press release notes. "Reflecting a data-driven approach, the most commonly requested information is displayed prominently on the site, including daily items like alternate side parking, trash collection and school status."

The homepage, which had existed in its current form since 2003, is now responsive and accessible via computers or mobile devices.

The new homepage gives significant prominence to the city's well-known 311 service, highlighting frequent requests such as heat complaints, information about birth certificates, noise complaints, Yellow Taxi Lost and Found and transit information. The site also offers a new 311 Booker tool making it easy for New Yorkers to submit requests from the homepage. In an emergency, a simplified version of the homepage will show critical information, announcements and updates.

The homepage also features a "Your Elected Officials" section highlighting the mayor, comptroller, city council speaker, public advocate and the borough presidents.

The site additionally offers a list of all the city's 301 official social media channels and mobile apps, and includes social media sharing options on all pages. The Office of the Mayor section gives special emphasis to data, highlighting New York City statistics such as the percentage of land rezoned since 2002, the number of tourists in 2012, average life expectancy and the percentage of foreign-born New Yorkers. Major city announcements from today's wireless and broadband initiatives to announcements about schools and new waterfront space also include featured data points.

Bloomberg Monday also released a report on the growth and impact of New York City's technology and information sector by Michael Mandel of South Mountain Economics, LLC. The report finds that the tech/information sector is the "second-largest engine" of the city's economy, supporting 262,000 jobs. According to the report, the sector helped the city increase private sector private payrolls by four percent between 2007 and 2012 when national private sector payrolls fell by three percent. The sector has grown by 11 percent since 2007, according to the report, adding 26,000 jobs and $5.8 billion in wages, and was responsible for around one-third of private sector job creation during that time period. According to the report, Brooklyn saw more tech/information job growth than any other large county except San Francisco. A separate report by Boston Consulting Group highlights how New York City and San Francisco created positive conditions for the growth of the technology sector.

However, an article in Crain's New York Business offered a somewhat different perspective on the standing of New York City's technology industry versus Silicon Valley, noting that Silicon Valley has almost twice as many computer design and related services and that Silicon Valley IPO's since January 2012 have raised 27 times what the newly public NYC companies Shutterstock and Liquid Holdings Group were able to raise.