Metro Tech

Mayor Bloomberg’s Big Plan to Improve Broadband

Gov 2.0 sure is fond of a little competition.
shortybloomberg01 Mayor Bloombergs Big Plan to Improve Broadband

El Bloombito at the Shorty Awards earlier this year.

It’s hard to crown yourself innovation capital of the world without the physical infrastructure to support it. With that in mind, Mayor Bloomberg and City Council speaker Christine Quinn announced a number of new initiatives this morning, aimed at improving the city’s broadband connectivity for the 21st century.

In a press release, the city said the efforts are “designed to capitalize on the growth” of the tech sector. With the success of the applied sciences campus competition, it looks like the city will be relying on that model when it comes to broadband as well.

Initiatives include a competition to build out fiber wiring for commercial and industrial buildings as well as a competition to develop mobile apps that will help residents access critical services. (NB: Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a startup-y sounding competition or hackathon and a traditional RFP.)

Other efforts include a grading program for connectivity in city buildings and a crowd-sourced digital map showcasing wired buildings citywide. This new plan also calls for streamlining the process for broadband-related permits and “exploring the streamlining of regulatory issues,” which sounds like they might run into some opposition.

In the end, the city expects hundreds of buildings to be wired “for state-of-the-art connectivity” in the next couple of years. The streamlined bureaucracy will lead to tens of thousands of permits issued and thousands of buildings being certified and placed on the aforementioned digital map.

Not a tech company? It’s still good news for all New Yorkers, Mayor Bloomberg argued in the press release:

“The growing technology industry is diversifying the City’s economy and creating the jobs of the future,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “To support those jobs, we need to help the industry get the resources it needs – whether that means more qualified engineers or broadband connections. But encouraging investment in broadband will help more than just the tech sector – it will make sure more businesses and more New Yorkers can get connected.”

The plan was developed in concert with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), which spearheaded the campus competition, and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT).

Here’s a breakdown of the individual intiatives:

·         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.

*Mr Kushner is the owner of the Observer Media Group, which includes Betabeat. 

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com