New York City Releases Visionary Internet Master Plan

New York City has been looking for a way to address Internet access disparities - quality, pricing, and infrastructure investment - for years. Their New York City Internet Master Plan from the Mayor's Office of the Chief Technology Officer, released today, recognizes that the current market solution has failed "The Big Apple" and its residents. In order to move forward and to extend broadband to all New Yorkers, the city will take a more active role, which will include open access fiber optic infrastructure and nurturing private sector investment.

Read the New York City Internet Master Plan here.

The Market Failure

The highly-anticipated report, which we hope to cover more in-depth after we've had more time to dig deeper into its 88 pages, describes the breadth of the problem and digs into why New York's Internet access availability is fraught with so much disparity. Other urban centers that struggle with similar digital disparities can use this groundbreaking approach as a foundation to study their own communities and search for a way to bring broadband to everyone.

From the Executive Summary:

The private market has failed to deliver the Internet in a way that works for all New Yorkers. Citywide, 29 percent of households do not have a broadband subscription at home. The same percentage of households are without a mobile broadband connection. The substantial overlap between these under-connected populations means that 18 percent of residents – more than 1.5 million New Yorkers – have neither a mobile connection nor a home broadband connection.

The report notes that the millions of New Yorkers who are not connected also tend to be those from lower-income households who don't have broadband at home. Competition tends to be only in high-density neighborhoods with high income households, which needs to change. The report accentuates the correlation between income levels and disparities in broadband service with striking maps.

logo-nyc.png Gaps in fiber optic infrastructure create fewer options and those limited options tend to limit the types of businesses that can thrive and function in the areas with less fiber optic infrastructure. Residents in those areas experience limited benefits from technology, widening the digital divide. Internet companies have deployed abundant fiber in lower Manhattan, but not in places such as Brooklyn and Queens.

New York officials understand that solving the problem will include an adjustment in how the city approaches the issue and, as they drafted the Master Plan and considered the needs of New Yorkers, they adopted five crucial elements:

Equity: No one will face a barrier based on who they are or where they live.

Performance: The Internet should be fast and reliable, and the quality should improve over time as uses of the Internet continue to evolve.

Affordability: Cost should not be a barrier for any New Yorker who wants to connect to the Internet.

Privacy: New Yorkers must be able to determine how their data is or is not used.

Choice: There should be sufficient competition among providers and diversity of technological solutions to sustain the other principles.

Gutsy, Resourceful

New York City's smart and realistic approach includes an open access or neutral host approach that will create an environment to support and encourage multiple operators in different areas throughout the city. The Master Plan to develop universal broadband to all boroughs will require deploying fiber optic infrastructure to almost every street intersection and developing an aggregation point in every neighborhood. In order to build upon this approach the city will make use of public rights-of-way and allow operators to make use of poles and buildings.

Planners intend to use existing city conduit in Manhattan and the Bronx to help reduce the overall cost, which they estimate at $2.1 billion. The plan will install fiber throughout the entire city, focusing first on areas where businesses have little or no access to fiber connectivity and where deployment will create the potential for new entrants.

The fiber network will also enable mobile broadband service to be expanded and will be developed with shared spectrum to support multiple operators. In areas where residents are most reliant on mobile connectivity, which tends to be low-income areas, the Master Plan makes it a priority.

The City's Expanding Role to Connect New Yorkers

Officials in New York City, realizing that the existing market has failed to meet the needs of their community and the needs of most large urban centers, have chosen to take a leading role in creating a better market for services. They also acknowledge that the task ahead of them is filled with challenges; the Master Plan documents the magnitude of the problem they need to solve. New York Officials see their role expanding to include four activities. From the Master Plan Executive Summary:

Coordinate City Processes: The City will build on the interagency contributions to this Master Plan to maintain the consistency and clarity of City policies as broadband deployment increases.

Optimize Public Assets: The City will invite proposals for the coordinated use of public real estate assets through a new Universal Solicitation for Broadband (USB). For the purposes of this Master Plan, “City assets” refers to those assets that are owned, operated, or otherwise controlled by the City, or available for City use. Private operators will be able to respond with requests for assets from multiple City agencies. The City will prioritize approaches that enable multiple operators to share in the use of an asset. The City will review responses to the USB for feasibility of implementation and potential impacts on City resources.

Partner on Infrastructure: The City will invest in new infrastructure that can be shared by multiple broadband operators. In addition to its own seed investments, the City will leverage public- private partnerships to install, operate, and maintain the infrastructure.

Enable Service Delivery: The City will support and promote the use of new, shared infrastructure by broadband operators to reach more areas with more services. New Yorkers will benefit from reliable and affordable broadband options that meet the City’s principles.

Estimated Impact

City officials liken expansion of open access fiber infrastructure in New York City to the development of the city's subway system or electricity. Noting that the tech industry already accounts for more than 200,000 jobs and that appeared with only around 60 percent of residents connected, expectations are high. For those in lower-income neighborhoods where infrastructure doesn't support fast, affordable, reliable Internet access, the gains are even greater. Official estimate that 1.2 million new households will be able to afforded Internet access as competition expands in the five buroughs.

From the Executive Summary:

The economic and fiscal impacts of realizing this vision will have a transformational impact on New York City’s economy, residents’ quality of life, and the City’s ability to operate more efficiently. Based on an analysis of potential economic impacts of  universal broadband, getting all New Yorkers connected and establishing equitable infrastructure citywide could, in the best-case scenario, result in up to 165,000 new jobs, up to a $49 billion increase in personal income, and up to $142 billion in incremental Gross City Product by 2045. These economic impacts cannot be fully realized under the current conditions of the internet in the city.

A Clear Vision

Much attention focuses on the digital divide in areas far from major metropolitan areas, but there are still millions of people living in large cities with no access to broadband. While large national Internet access companies have invested in targeted areas within urban centers, which the New York Internet Master Plan confirms, other areas withing cities may need municipal involvement. New York's intelligent approach describes a delicate balance between public and private investment and provides an approach that other large cities can consider.

Gigi Sohn, Distinguished Fellow at the Georgetown Institute for Technology Law and Policy and a Benton Senior Fellow and Public Advocate. She served as Counselor to Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released this statement about the plan:

New York City’s Internet Master Plan is the most thoughtful and comprehensive blueprint by any major city to ensure that every resident and small business has affordable and open access to high-performance broadband. Mayor DeBlasio and his team of experts have developed a data-driven plan that treats broadband as vital infrastructure and considers every possible technological solution to connect city residents. Critically, the plan recommends smart solutions to break down non-price barriers to broadband adoption, like digital literacy training and online privacy protections.

The federal government has failed to meet the broadband needs of tens of millions of Americans. It is therefore incumbent upon states, cities and municipalities to step up where the federal government has stood down. The Internet Master Plan will be a vital resource for cities big and small so that they too can ensure that their residents have the connectivity needed to participate fully in our economy, our society and our democracy.

Christopher's take on the New York City Internet Master Plan:

This plan from New York City is realistic and bold - it is the first major city to treat Internet access with the seriousness it deserves. New York City has recognized the unique strengths and challenges that come with being a premier city in crafting a plan around this. This plan will unleash innovation and creativity in ways that should spur other major cities to learn from it.

Read the New York City Internet Master Plan here.

Image of The Pond at Central Park by Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA [CC BY]