Tue 29 Apr 2014 10:34PM

How can we bring municipal broadband to NYC?

DM David Moore Public Seen by 20

On the FCC's abandonment of net neutrality rules, Prof. Susan Crawford wrote recently in the NYT, "There is much to be done at every level of government, but cities are the most promising battleground right now. Mayors, Republican and Democrat alike, are in the business of providing their citizens with services, and fiber infrastructure is just like a city street grid: Economic development, quality of life, new jobs and a thriving competitive market all depend on its presence."

The cities of Chattanooga, TN, Santa Monica, CA and others offer successful examples of municipal broadband in the U.S. But as of this writing, no larger U.S. city has begun a municipal broadband initiative - mostly likely, by starting a pilot project in one geographic area. The goals and benefits of such a sizable initiative would include the following: technology-sector job creation, universal internet access in under-served communities, greater connectivity for city agencies & civic facilities, and network resiliency in emergencies.

On May 19th, 2014, Mayor de Blasio announced his commitment to achieving universal, affordable broadband in NYC, and to appointing a broadband task force.

What proposals can the civic tech community deliver to this new broadband task force as recommendations towards a pilot project of a high-speed municipal network in NYC? We're launching this discussion at the Personal Democracy Forum conference as one of the first public uses of the free & open-source Loomio platform in the U.S., joined by technology & policy experts and community advocates, some of them volunteering from the Open Technology Institute of the New America Foundation.

Anyone is invited to participate in this public discussion and vote on proposals (aye, nay, or abstain). Our approximately five proposals expect to touch on the following: allies in city government and community organizations to invite into this group; existing "dark fiber" availability for a pilot project; funding opportunities in future NYC capital improvement budgets; which borough(s) and anchor institutions are best suited for a pilot; sustainability models of high-speed municipal networks; and who from a public-interest perspective should be nominated to be part of the official NYC task force. Questions & feedback welcome: david at ppolitics.org, and feel free to join. Add comments below under Discussion, and I'll be starting our first proposal to discuss on Thursday, June 5th.


David Moore Thu 22 May 2014 8:36PM

"We must have universal, affordable, high-speed Internet access throughout this city." - Mayor de Blasio :: http://observer.com/2014/05/de-blasio-promises-universal-affordable-broadband-across-nyc/


maryam Thu 22 May 2014 9:52PM

  1. Potential coordination w/ long-term construction projects like: -Williamsburg’s Domino Sugar Factory -Vision Zero safety improvements

Poll Created Thu 5 Jun 2014 9:56PM

Recommend that NYC builds a wholesale fiber network so as to ensure retail competition to every home and business. Closed Fri 6 Jun 2014 6:10PM

Recommend to Mayor de Blasio's forthcoming NYC broadband task force that the city government moves to build a new municipal fiber network. Prof. Crawford wrote more on momentum for this in April: http://goo.gl/X8fXPN.


Results Option % of points Voters
Agree 100.0% 2 DM WM
Abstain 0.0% 0  
Disagree 0.0% 0  
Block 0.0% 0  
Undecided 0% 13 BK DE BC D TB NR BS M GB CM IB DC SN

2 of 15 people have participated (13%)


David Moore
Thu 5 Jun 2014 10:09PM

It's important that our overall recommendation to the nascent NYC broadband task force emphasizes the legal permissibility and enormous benefits of true municipal broadband. NYC gov't has the exec. authority to lay its own fiber as a primary goal.


Ingrid Burrington Tue 10 Jun 2014 7:30PM

Is there a preferred method for implementing this network that the recommendation would make, or is that kind of beyond the purview of the discussion and more a matter for the broadband task force. I'm just curious about the cost differences between the city purchasing dark fiber from existing network providers vs pulling their own vs microtrenching.


David Moore Wed 11 Jun 2014 6:15PM

Ingrid, good points- I do hope we can address those priority questions. I hope this discussion group can articulate the state of research by OTI and Prof. Crawford others on these very options in NYC; and tie-in the sustainability options & cost factors, as you look ahead to - and then recommend a location & strategy for a pilot project. So, ahead of our next proposal, let's share known resources on cost of purchasing dark fiber vs. laying new fiber in NYC - including microtrenching. I've heard different approaches for laying new fiber through Empire City Subway (ECS) or the MTA and have much more to learn.


Simran Noor Wed 11 Jun 2014 7:00PM

To achieve universal, affordable broadband, The City of New York must have a comprehensive set of approaches, of which municipal build-out is one. Given context shifts from neighborhood to neighborhood in New York, we cannot expect one method to be best for everyone.

Big telecommunications companies simply are not delivering the bottom line in terms of connectivity for low-income communities and communities of color. Building a municipal network, one possible approach to delivering connectivity to these underserved communities, requires a sizable upfront investment, so a pilot project is essential. At the Center for Social Inclusion, we recommend mapping/data analysis of existing infrastructure, users (broadband adoption) and uses for high-speed internet across New York. This type of analysis should be foundational to suggestions around the development and location of a pilot.

To be sustainable, any efforts to achieve universal, affordable broadband must be centered in community. This not only requires the the comprehensive data mentioned above, disaggregated by race, income and geography, but also engagement of communities upfront. Smaller internet providers and community-centered small business owners must also be engaged and furthermore financially supported through loans, grants, and tax credits.

Above and beyond municipal broadband, a comprehensive set of approaches must be developed as an overall strategy for New York City to get to the universal, affordable broadband so desperately needed for all communities to participate in the 21st century economy. This means:

  • Learning from community-scale models like the wireless mesh network of Red Hook, which provided essential communications infrastructure in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and understanding the mechanisms (policy and financing) that allowed for their development.
  • Leveraging the City’s position and power as franchise agreements are being re-negotiated to ensure that big companies are incentivized and required to think strategically about build-out and service provisions for public good.
  • Thinking beyond broadband living in technology but rather across various city agencies (DOT, DOE, public utilities, NYCHA, housing) to surface opportunities to integrate broadband wiring in any capital project the City has planned for 2014 and beyond.

David Moore Mon 16 Jun 2014 9:04PM

Simran, really interesting, thanks for such a detailed comment. Ctr. for Social Inclusion's research on community-scale broadband is vital. What's the next step, as you see it, on the first task you mentioned - mapping & data analysis of existing infrastructure in NYC?