Thursday, July 31, 2008

New York City - broadband

New York advised to study broadband alternatives to municipal Wi-Fi

Mayor, city council look to expand Internet service to low-income residents, industrial areas

Technology consultants told New York officials today that a municipal Wi-Fi system there would be inadvisable, given the experiences of several other major cities. Representatives of Chicago-based Diamond Management and Technology Consultants Inc. suggested several other ways that the city could expand broadband Internet access.

A study and recommendations by Diamond consultants will be reviewed over the coming week's by the city's Broadband Advisory Committee, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Council, city officials said today.

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber, who attended the presentation, said Boomberg's administration has made it a priority to "determine the most effective and feasible ways to increase broadband accessibility among New Yorkers."

Lieber said the advisory committee and city officials are still working to determine the roles of the public and private sectors in expanding broadband access in the city. In the past, some officials have suggested that city cable providers kick into a technology fund created to help pay for the installation of fiber-optic service. In fact, Verizon Communications Inc. has already contributed $4 million to the fund, Lieber noted.

The consultant's study did find that New York is mostly on a par with other major U.S. cities regarding broadband adoption. However, it also noted that Internet usage remains limited among low-income New Yorkers and could be improved in industrial areas.

Citing the low demand and cost overruns for Wi-Fi systems in some other large municipalities, the consultants said that a citywide network is inadvisable. In did suggest, however, adding Wi-Fi hot spots in public spaces like neighborhood parks.

City Councilor Gale Brewer, a member of the advisory committee, said that Lieber's attendance at the briefing should help the broadband effort move forward. "This is the first time the mayor's office has been behind the [broadband initiative]," she said in a telephone interview.

Brewer said the city's 8 million residents need a unified effort by officials to expand Internet access to low-income residents, which could happen by wiring more libraries and employment centers. She also suggested that the city expand training programs such as Computers for Youth, which provides refurbished desktop computers to children and their parents, along with several hours of training, at no cost.

"Our storefront nonprofit computer training centers are packed" -- but in short supply, Brewer noted.

While some of the major New York parks, including Central Park in Manhattan, are outfitted for Wi-Fi access, low-income residents could benefit from having high-speed wireless networks in neighborhood parks, Brewer said. "We already see the iPhone crowd using the Wi-Fi heavily in the big parks, but people don't have Wi-Fi in the parks near their homes," she said.

Brewer also noted that she has been surprised in recent years by how many businesses in industrial areas are seeking lower-cost Internet access. In many areas, she noted, businesses rely only on the phone company for access. Therefore, the broadband effort should look closely at providing more options for access in industrial areas. More options means more competition and hopefully lower access costs, she said.

Brewer said she hopes that some of the study's suggestions can be turned into initiatives by year's end.

"It's really hard for many people who have no Internet access to know what's possible with it," she said. "In some cases, it's not just getting high-speed access; it's just getting any access. Internet access is huge. With no bandwidth, it's no knowledge."

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