Category Archives: Policy

Community Broadband Hearing at Columbia University on Dec. 11

UPDATE: This is a Community Broadband Hearing by Columbia University, not an FCC Field Hearing. Sorry for the confusion!

Friend Bruce Lincoln, Entrepreneur in Residence at Columbia Engineering’s Center for Technology, Innovation & Community Engagement, sent us an invite for a Community Broadband Hearing taking place next Friday, December 11 at Columbia. I’m planning to attend, and suggest those of you that fill the different roles outlined below attend as well.

If you are planning on attending, leave a comment so we can find you!

It is important that members of the local community have an opportunity to participate in the National Broadband Planning process which is currently underway in Washington.

Toward that end, I invite you to participate in an FCC Field Hearing on Friday, December 11, 2009 at Columbia University in New York. The meeting will be held in Davis Auditorium from 8:45 am until noon.

The field hearing will bring together policymakers, elected officials, not-for-profit organizations, small businesses, anchor institutions, public agencies, broadband providers, foundations, community-based organizations and community leaders, academicians, and researchers. Together we will share thoughts on how collectively we can ensure all New Yorkers have access to broadband and the educational, economic and social opportunities it can provide.

I hope you will be able to attend as a representative of your organization or constituency. To fully understand the importance of broadband access from all points of view, your participation is vital. The agenda includes a “community visioning session” where you will have an opportunity to share your thoughts, ideas, and concerns with the group.

You can confirm your attendance via e-mail to bl2317@columbia.edu.

Agenda

Friday, December 11, 2009
Davis Auditorium, Columbia University
8 am-noon

8:00 Registration and Breakfast
8:45 Welcome (Bruce Lincoln, Columbia Engineering)
8:50 Opening Remarks (Dean, Feniosky Pena-Mora, Columbia Engineering)
9:00 “An Overview of the New York State Broadband Vision and Strategy” (Edward Reinfurt, Executive Director, New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation, NYSTAR)
9:30 “Vision of New York City’s Broadband Future” (Gale Brewer, Chair, Committee on Technology and Government, New York City Council)
9:40 Short Break
9:45 Practitioners Panel Session
10:15 Audience Q&A
10:30 Community Visioning Session
11:30 Wrap-up
12:00 Adjournment

Response to City Wireless Internet Access for New York City Parks and Other Open Spaces (DoITT RFI)

NYCwireless submitted this response to the DoITT RFI City Wireless Internet Access for New York City Parks and Other Open Spaces” (PIN: 85809RFI0045) [PDF].

Download PDF Version

RFI Response to City Wireless Internet Access for New York City Parks and Other Open Spaces

Prepared by:

Dana Spiegel, Executive Director, NYCwireless
Rob Kelley and Anthony Townsend, Executive Board Members

Overview

NYCwireless is a non-profit organization that advocates and enables the growth of free, public wireless internet access in New York City and surrounding areas. Founded in 2001, NYCwireless serves thousands of individuals throughout the New York City metro area through the dozens of hotspots installed in NYC Parks, Public Spaces, and Affordable Housing Buildings.

Over the past several years, NYCwireless has built free, public wireless networks in dozens of New York City parks and open spaces through partnerships with local organizations such as the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation and Madison Square Park Conservancy and business improvement districts such as the Alliance for Downtown New York. These include hotspots in Bryant Park, Madison Square Park, Wagner Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Jackson Square Park, Stuyvesant Cove Park (the first fully solar powered hotspot in New York), Tompkins Square Park, Bowling Green Park, City Hall Park, the South Street Seaport, the Winter Garden, the Atrium at 60 Wall Street, Stone Street, Wall Street Park, and the Vietnam Veterans Plaza, among others.

NYCwireless also assists under-served communities in getting affordable internet access. NYCwireless works with Dunn Development Corporation and Community Access, a non-profit housing organization, to train volunteers and building residents to build and maintain wireless networks in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The networks provide 8 buildings with more than 50 residents per building with private, high-speed wireless connections.

According to a survey by NYCwireless Board Member Laura Forlano, Wi-Fi is a factor in attracting people to specific locations throughout the city for 70% of those surveyed. These findings have potential implications for economic development and support the rationale that WiFi may enable commerce and productivity that would not have occurred otherwise. For example, one respondent commutes 20 minutes from Queens to use the Bryant Park wireless network on weekends in order to work on his food and wine website outside rather than at home.

At NYCwireless, we’ve worked with many local leaders. Some of them are BIDs like the Downtown Alliance or public benefit corporations like the Battery Park City Authority. Some are local developers, like the one we’re working with in the West Village who transformed a park and part of a neighborhood from being a place for homeless people to being a place for families and children. These local leaders have transformed their communities, and helped us bring internet to the people. Unfortunately so many more come to us with visions of helping out their neighborhood, but don’t have the funds to make it happen. While NYCwireless provides a very low cost option for building public Wi-Fi, its not without installation and maintenance cost. And many of the local leaders we’ve spoken to have no current means to get the funding they need to build and create local broadband. In speaking with them, we know that with just enough funding, these people too could change their communities, and bring whole neighborhoods online. Funding must be injected into local communities in order to provide resources for these leaders to do their work.
Continue reading Response to City Wireless Internet Access for New York City Parks and Other Open Spaces (DoITT RFI)

Our Take: NYC RFI on "City Wireless Internet Access for New York City Parks and Other Open Spaces"

Earlier today (Wednesday) DoITT released an RFI for “City Wireless Internet Access for New York City Parks and Other Open Spaces” (PIN: 85809RFI0045). I’ve had a chance to review the RFI, and NYCwireless will be responding to it, but I wanted to provide a summary for those of you who haven’t had a chance to read through it yet.

Basically, the City wants to light up more Parks, and is looking for ways to make this happen. We’ve provided lots of suggestions both on and off the record [1, 2, 3], and some of what we’ve said (and certainly what we’ve successfully done) has started to seep through. We should be celebrating that the City is asking questions first before issuing a blanket RFP and they seem to have learned a bit after being burned twice before by the Parks Departments previous RFPs, but the jury is still out on how progressive their ultimate plan will be. This RFI represents baby steps in the right direction, though there’s still a long road ahead for those of us that want to see free Wi-Fi in all city parks and public spaces.

The (Mostly) Good

  • DoITT seems to recognize the value in Wi-Fi in parks and public spaces, and indicates that they are clearly aware of the work that organizations other than the Parks Department have done to grow free public Wi-Fi.
  • DoITT is open to how they should organize any public-space Wi-Fi initiative, though there are still funding issues (see below).
  • More parks are being added to the list of possible Parks Department sanctioned free Wi-Fi, however this does beg the question about how parks not on the “official” list are going to be able to get service.
  • The City wants to work with more BIDs in offering free Wi-Fi, though they don’t acknowledge the fact that the BIDs and other organizations that have created free Wi-Fi hotspots have done so without much involvement by the Parks Department, and often in spite of any blockades the Parks Department has put up.
  • DoITT is potentially open to other business models for building Wi-Fi hotspots, though as indicated below (and as I have been saying for a number of years), there aren’t any viable ones where businesses can independently fund the buildout and maintenance.
  • The City is willing to provide both signage and some publicity for the Wi-Fi hotspots.
  • The City will provide free access and use of city-owned property to facilitate the installation of equipment.
  • DoITT seems open to reducing insurance requirements for running a hotspot, but even this doesn’t go far enough. We have hotspots where there is NO equipment on park property at all (its on a neighboring building rooftop). Why such installation strategies should require ANY general or personal liability insurance is a mystery (we do carry liability insurance for equipment installation and maintenance).
  • Any submissions must be mostly non-proprietary, which means that we should all be able to read whatever companies submit for the RFI (we will publish our submission for all to read on this site). DoITT should go one step further and commit to actually publishing all submissions, so we don’t have to file Freedom of Information Law requests just to get them.

The Bad

  • DoITT talks a lot about “other comparable wireless Internet service” versus Wi-Fi. In the long term, I suppose its important to recognize that laptops and mobile devices may ship with newer wireless standards, but we’re quite a number of years off from this happening, and for the forseeable future, Wi-Fi is it–Apple introduced Wi-Fi on laptops 10 years ago, and those laptops are still compatible with today’s Wi-Fi networks.
  • Access to city-owned property isn’t the biggest issue in getting Wi-Fi deployed. Getting reasonably fast internet access lines (or WiMax uplinks) is the biggest problem. NYCwireless has had tremendous success rapidly deploying Wi-Fi equipment on building rooftops and even nearby businesses, but we (and WiFiSalon as well) have spent countless, fruitless hours getting internet lines from Verizon. In a recent example, it took over 4 months to get internet service to Wagner Park, even though our gear was installed within a month of signing a contract.
  • DoITT is looking mostly for one or a few companies to step up and do all the work. We’ve long talked about how the City can take a grass-roots approach to getting local parks and public spaces lit up, but for the most part, DoITT is focussing only on the biggest and most prominent locations. This is unfortunate, since the people in lower income and further afield areas are often the ones who benefit the most from such initiatives, but they seem to be mostly left out of this party.

The Ugly

DoITT seems mostly steadfast in their insistence (as the Parks Department has been in the past) that no City funds should be spent on any buildout or maintenance of hotspots. This is still a really big sticking point: The first Parks RFP required that a concessionaire pay significant money to the Parks department, and the second Parks RFP required that a concessionaire pay some proposed amount of money to the Parks department.

There have been only a handful of interested companies (we offered to pay $1), and the WiFiSalon, the only concessionaire that paid any fees was driven out of business by that requirement. Ad revenue is negligible since such networks see a fraction of the impressions that even a second-tier blog sees, and sponsorship dollars are only available to the most prominent parks like Madison Square Park and Bryant Park, and such deals are done only through whole-park sponsorship, not sponsorship of just the Wi-Fi network.

As I’ve said many times before and as the industry has seen countless times, Ad-based business models are unsustainable for individual hotspots and even reasonable sized hotspot networks. If DoITT and the City want to really ensure that free public Wi-Fi should be made available, and that locations other than the most highly-trafficked and well-to-do are served, they need to step up and offer alternative funding models.

One thing to consider is that the companies that can do the installation and maintenance of high-quality outdoor hotspots (there are few) don’t have big advertising or sales teams to make them self-funding. These are two orthogonal specialties and forcing a single company to be capable of both severely limits the applicant pool and threatens the business viability of any participating company. NYCwireless has been successful because we provide all of the back-end technical know how and support for free public Wi-Fi hotspots. We are paid by our partners (BIDs and others) to perform this service, and they do the money raising since that’s what they are good at.

NY City Council Hearing: The Regulation and Use of the Unallocated Portion of the Radio Spectrum, Also Known as White Spaces on Sep 28 @ 10am

The New York City Council is holding a hearing on “The Regulation and Use of the Unallocated Portion of the Radio Spectrum, Also Known as White Spaces” on Monday, September 28th @ 10am in the Committee Room at City Hall. I will be there presenting on behalf of NYCwireless. We need as many people as we can get to attend and support us.

Here’s a press release from Josh Breitbart and Free Press about the hearing:

Groups Call on NYC to Open Public Airwaves to New Technology

City Council should embrace ‘white spaces’ and bring high-speed Internet to all New Yorkers

NEW YORK — Community media, public interest and immigrant rights advocates are calling on the New York City Council to endorse “white spaces” technology that could boost the economy and drive down the cost of mobile phone calls and Internet access.

White spaces are the unused portions of the public airwaves between television channels. According to a study conducted by Free Press, one-fifth of New York City’s television channels are currently not being used. New technology can use this vacant spectrum to send powerful, high-speed Internet signals — connecting New Yorkers to a fast, open and affordable Internet.

“Opening the white spaces would close the digital divide, and it wouldn’t cost us a dime — or, rather, it would save us a lot more than a dime on what we’re paying now for Internet access and cell phone service,” said Joshua Breitbart, policy director of People’s Production House.

The Federal Communications Commission is currently considering whether to open up the white spaces to the public. Engineers at the FCC, through extensive testing, have shown that low-power, mobile devices can utilize white spaces to connect to the Internet without interfering with TV broadcasts and wireless microphones on adjacent channels.

Lobbyists from the National Association of Broadcasters, cell phone carriers and wireless microphone companies have launched a misinformation campaign to prevent white spaces from being used to provide high-speed broadband access.

“Unfortunately, many key decision-makers simply lack the bandwidth to investigate the benefits of white spaces technology,” said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press. “Instead they hear misinformation from industry lobbyists who come knocking with lies and spin meant to paint this technology as a danger to humanity.”

A draft resolution currently before the City Council, sponsored by Councilmember Gale Brewer and Speaker Christine Quinn, claims white space devices would be “devastating” to Broadway productions. The City Council Committee on Technology in Government is holding a hearing on the resolution on Monday, Sept. 29, 2008, at 10 a.m., in the Committee Room of City Hall. It is a public forum where anyone can testify.

“White spaces could provide an affordable alternative for people like me who use expensive phone cards to call family and friends back home in other countries,” said Abdulai Bah of Nah We Yone, a community group that advocates for African refugees in New York.

Diamond Consultants to publicly brief Broadband Advisory Committee regarding the Bloomberg Administration's plans for bridging the digital divide

I just received this notice from a contact at the City Council. Everyone should attend if they can (unfortunately I won’t be able to go) and report back.

Very curious too that:

(a) The report from Diamond Consultants is only about the digital divide, since I was under the impression that the research was supposed to be about a lot more than just the digital divide, and

(b) This is being presented as “the Bloomberg Administration’s plans”, because I would think that the Bloomberg Administration would present their own plans and not have a consultant present for them, and further their “plans” should be based in part on the findings of the Broadband Advisory Committee, who’s whole point of existing is to bring a different perspective and set of expertise to any “plans” that are created.

Overall, I’m not too hopeful for what will be presented. I suspect it will be much too little, and frankly at least 6 months too late. This administration inexplicably has shown no spine for dealing with internet and network access issues and tends to kowtow to Verizon and Time Warner Cable. But, maybe, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

CITY HALL – On Wednesday, July 30th at 11:00am there will be a briefing from the Mayor’s Office and Diamond Consultants for the Broadband Advisory Committee regarding the Bloomberg Administration’s plans for bridging the digital divide in New York City.

The Broadband Advisory Committee was established in 2005 with the passage of Introduction 625-A creating a joint public broadband commission to advise the Mayor and the City Council of New York on how the resources of City government can be used to stimulate the private market so that residents and businesses of New York City have more options in terms of high-speed Internet access. The goal of the committee is to educate the general public about broadband and the newest communication technologies, and to give New York City residents the opportunity to comment on how the digital divide in New York City can be closed. To support these efforts the Broadband Advisory Committee has held public Broadband Hearings in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. The Committee will hold its fifth and final hearing in Staten Island this fall.

Diamond Consultants was hired by the New York City Economic Development Corporation to determine the breadth of the digital divide in New York City and develop programs and initiatives to provide greater digital inclusion for all residents. Chris O’Brien, a Partner in Diamond’s Public Sector practice, will be detailing Diamond’s findings and its recommendations for the City’s next steps.

The meeting will take place in the Committee of the Whole Room, City Hall, New York, NY on Wednesday, July 30th at 11:00 am. This is a public meeting and all are welcome to attend. For further information please contact Kunal Malhotra, Director of Legislation & Budget, 212-788-6975 or Kunal.Malhotra@council.nyc.gov.