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In Cable Franchise Deal, New York City Snatches Up Commitments to High-Speed Internet

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, August 10 2011

A deal with New York's cable providers is based on a 2008 deal with Verizon to provide its FiOS fiber-optic service in the city. Photo: Rob Pongsajapan / Flickr

New York City on Wednesday announced a deal with Time Warner Cable and Cablevision over their cable franchises that will bring greater broadband Internet access into low-income communities and commercial districts around the city. But if you live in New York and are reading this, you may care more about part of the deal that requires the cable companies to commit to a limited time window for appointments and for answering calls to customer service.

The deal approved today grants Time Warner Cable and Cablevision each a franchise to provide cable television service in exchange for those concessions and a handful of others, which the city pegs at an estimated value of $60 million. These include a $10 million investment in wi-fi service in about 30 parks and public spaces, more money for public access cable systems, and a $1.5 million commitment from Time Warner to support the NYC Media Lab, a public-private partnership to conduct new media research. The city's own institutional fiber network will also get a $20 million infusion. Each provider will pay the city five percent of its revenues from cable service.

As researchers in the field of civic life and the civic health of cities increasingly turn their attention towards digital literacy, broadband is becoming more and more important. High-speed Internet means making visits to YouTube, or the Open Learning Initiative, or that live feed of a City Council meeting, is less of a chore. It means that citizens can create content rather than just consume it, which some researchers believe will become key to political participation going forward. But the United States has fewer broadband connections per 100 residents than Canada and many European countries — the U.S. ranks 15th in a study on the subject by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In a statement released today by the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, city officials announced that Gotham's cable providers had promised to work with local non-profits to set up 40 centers around the city where residents could access high-speed Internet. In a follow-up email, DoITT spokesman Nicholas Sbordone said libraries will get Cablevision service that offers 101 Mbps download speed at 15 Mbps upload. The city previously announced a deal with AT&T to bring wi-fi to 20 other New York City parks.

Internet service providers are stepping up promises around high-speed Internet to underserved communities around the country. In order to gain approval for a merger in January, for example, Comcast and NBC Universal agreed to make high-speed Internet access to 2.5 million low-income households for less than $10 per month, as well as affordable computer equipment and digital literacy opportunities. Comcast recently launched that initiative in Chicago, Ill., Miami, Fla., and Atlanta, Ga., among other cities, under the name Internet Essentials.

In a press release, the city highlighted a provision of its deal that allows the city to renegotiate with cable providers if Internet access rather than cable service begins to account for a greater proportion of the providers' profits. Were that to happen, the city's cut — based on cable revenues — would start to decline.

The deal also requires cable companies to commit to a four-hour window for service calls, answer calls within 30 seconds and commit to resolving service outages within a set time period. In the press release, the city said this deal was based on the 2008 franchise it issued Verizon to provide its FiOS service throughout New York City.