Dec 12: New York City Council hearing on broadband access

The New York City Council Committee on Technology in Government will hold a hearing on 12 December 2005 at 1:00 PM at the Council Chambers in City Hall to discuss proposed Int. 625-A which would create a temporary task force to study how affordable broadband access can be made available to all New York City residents, nonprofit organizations and businesses. The New York City Council Committee on Technology in Government will hold a hearing on 12 December 2005 at 1:00 PM at the Council Chambers in City Hall to discuss proposed Int. 625-A which would create a temporary task force to study how affordable broadband access can be made available to all New York City residents, nonprofit organizations and businesses. The Chairperson of the meeting is Gale A. Brewer (member of the NY City Council).

Focus of the proposed legislation

Michael Santorelli, Legislative Policy Analyst, Committee on Technology in Government, says that the hearing will focus on legislation that will expand the Mayor’s current telecommunications policy advisory group to make it accountable to the City Council and, most importantly, to the people of NYC.

The aim of the proposed law is to create a much needed dialogue between the administration and the City Council on how to make affordable broadband available to all citizens. Proponents of the legislation say that the Mayor is content with the status quo which is to leave matters entirely in the hands of the private sector. While most city council members agree that the City government ought not to become a service provider or use taxpayer money to build out an infrastructure, many insist that the City can play a large role in creating a more competitive market for broadband services, for example, by entering into public-private partnerships.

The legislation does not endorse a particular delivery method or direct and immediate municipal involvement. Its proponents want to make municipal broadband a priority by creating a permanent and public advisory committee to consider using municipal resources to facilitate the development and deployment of some type of broadband network. The legislation is also a reaction to the mayor’s telecommunications report last year that laid out his vision for NYC telecom (message: the status quo is fine).

While most people believe that the city ought not to get into the business of being a broadband provider, they feel that the city can do a lot more to leverage its assets and public rights-of-way to facilitate more robust competition and give the public more and better choices when it comes to getting online.

Santorelli says that roughly 60% of NYC residents do not have a broadband connection! Many are asking: “Why couldn’t NYC create a Philadelphia-style public-private model? Why can’t it work in New York?”

Another important aspect of the legislation is that the committee it seeks to establish will be public and be required to hold public hearings in each borough at least once a year. Santorelli believes that there are a lot of people who still don’t know what broadband is or what it can do outside of what their current providers (if they even have one) tell them. Those who have broadband are often frustrated with their connections and their download speeds yet very few know that true broadband (not the lousy sub-1 Mbps touted by many American providers as “broadband”) could be much better.

Proponents of the legislation want to educate the public on what they are missing out on so they can drive the demand.
There is only so much the City Council can do without the support of the public it represents. That support can be there if we can do a better job of informing them. The proposed committee will do that.

What will be discussed at the hearing

They will talk about the legislation and proponents will make a case for this small first step forward. They have invited broadband providers to come and talk about the feasibility of universal service in NYC. So far, they have commitments from Wi-Fi, BPL, and WiMAX companies. They also have witnesses who will talk about the beneficial aspects of broadband and its impact on education, children, senior citizens and economic development. Andrew Rasiej, who ran for Public Advocate last fall in New York and is a proponent of cheap, ubiquitous broadband access, will be there.

Note: Thanks to Michael Santorelli and Bruce Lai (Chief of Staff for Gale Brewer) for sending this information.