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Gale Brewer

How Broadband Helps Make Cities Smarter at the Breakfast Club

in Broadband TV/National Broadband Plan/Smart Grid by

WASHINGTON, September 23, 2011 – Broadband is an essential ingredient in allowing cities of the future to ensure better services, promote better jobs, and become more livable. Here are both the five-minute highlight version, and a full-length version, of the September Broadband Breakfast Club.

Five-Minute Highlight Version:

Making Cities of the Future Smarter through Broadband from Broadband Breakfast.

Full-Length Version:

Making Cities of the Future Smarter through Broadband from Broadband Breakfast.

The Broadband Breakfast Club is sponsored by Comcast, Google, ICF InternationalIntel, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and the Telecommunications Industry Association.

Smarter Cities Need Better Broadband to Realize Their Networking Potential

in Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/Smart Grid by

September 19, 2011 – America’s unique concept of federalism – joint sovereignty between the states and the federal government – sometimes obscures some on-the-ground realities when it comes to the all-important topic of economic growth and development. The simple fact is that cities serve as the engine of life, commerce, culture and sociality.

What makes cities so important is the role they play in spurring connections and social networks. In the most recent edition of the Atlantic Monthly, Richard Florida argues that:

Cities are our greatest invention, not because of the scale of their infrastructure or their placement along key trade routes, but because they enable human beings to combine and recombine their talents and ideas in new ways. With their breadth of skills, dense social networks, and physical spaces for interactions, great cities and metro areas push people together and increase the kinetic energy between them.

In other words, we need to stop thinking of cities as the locus of industrial-age manufacturing (let alone agricultural trading spots), but as a place where people exchange information and ideas. No doubt Jane Jacobs would approve. Her book of 50 years ago, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, critiqued the rationalist urban planning with its strict separation of industrial, residential and commercial uses. (For a 2003 interview of Jane Jacobs on the role of technologies in cities, please see this link. Jacobs died in 2006.)

Cities have become much more livable over the past generation. I’ll leave it for experts to debate whether this is through the ascendency of Jacobs’ ideas, the ability of big cities to curb high crime rates, or through larger secular or demographic trends.

What we see now, however, is the emergence of the “Smart City.” Although smart cities mean different things to different people, there are a couple of core ideas behind these theme:

  • Intelligent traffic management and infrastructure improvements
  • Energy-efficient buildings
  • Interactive information sharing, including open data repositories
  • “Smart grid” usage by electric utilities

Many major cities – New York, Chicago, Toronto and others – are seeking to promote the concept, and many computing and bandwidth companies are promoting the concept. For example, IBM has launched the “Smarter Cities Challenge,” a competitive grant program to enable 100 world-wide cities to become more vibrant and livable places for citizens. See http://smartercitieschallenge.org/about.html.

When I watch the advertisements, or read the materials, that cities and companies are promoting around “Smart Cities,” I inevitably think: but what about broadband?

What are cities doing to ensure that the infrastructure builds are accompanied by fiber-optic wires, or ensuring that the “smart grid” is fully enabled through high-bandwidth connectivity, or that businesses and broadband centers have truly robust broadband capacity?

At the BroadbandBreakfast.com, we’re particularly interested in fostering debate around the question of broadband – and the role that high-speed internet is playing in promoting the economy, society and the purposes articulated in the National Broadband Plan.

Tomorrow, at the Broadband Breakfast Club event on September 20, 2011, at 8 a.m., we’ll engage on this subject. The discussion will feature Gale Brewer, a New York City Councilmember who has been one of the country’s leading advocates of better broadband. Gail has represented the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and currently chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, where she has worked to make better use of technology to save money, improve city services, and bring residents, businesses and non-profits closer to government and their communities.

Gale Brewer will keynote this event, which is titled, “Making Cities of the Future Smarter Through Broadband.”

Another panelist on the program is Elise Kohn, Program Director for the University Community Next Generation Innovation Project, which is better known as “GigU.” GigU is one of the brain-children of Blair Levin, the former direction of the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan, and an innovative way to bridge the town-gown divide through super-fast connectivity.

Also on the program is Benjamin Lennett, Policy Director, Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, which has been actively involved in a number of broadband-related projects in urban areas, including Philadelphia and Detroit. Lennett will be able to speak to innovative approaches to broadband.

Sarah Williams, Director, Spatial Information Design Lab, Columbia University, will also participate. Sarah’s research focuses on the representation of digital information/mapping and ecological design & planning. Previously, she started the Geographic Information System (GIS) Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and also worked with the West Philadelphia Landscape Project and the Philadelphia Water Department.

Don’t miss this important discussion on “Making Cities of the Future Smarter through Broadband.” Registration is available at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com. The Broadband Breakfast Club is sponsored by Comcast, Google, ICF International, Intel, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and the Telecommunications Industry Association. Also see the 2011-2012 program of the Broadband Breakfast Club series.

Broadband Speeds Matter Just as Much as Internet Access, Say New Yorkers

in National Broadband Plan/Premium Content/States by

NEW YORK, December 13, 2009 – Broadband speeds matter just as much as does internet access, in order to ensure educational, economic and social opportunities for individuals of all incomes and ethnic backgrounds, participants in a community broadband hearing here agreed on Friday.

Policy officials, not-for-profit organizations, small businesses, community-based organizations and others came together Friday for to discuss how New York fits into the national broadband plan currently being developed by the Federal Communications Commission in Washington.

The event was organized by Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and taped for FCC review and consideration.

The FCC’s year-long survey of the nation’s internet infrastructure was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which included broadband initiatives intended to accelerate broadband deployment across the United States.

The stimulus package “will be the driving force in this country for many years to come” as it relates to science and technology, Edward Reinfurt, executive director of the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation.

In New York, Gov. David Paterson has appointed the New York State Broadband Development and Deployment Council, which is holding its first meeting December 14 as his designated entity coordinating broadband stimulus activities.

The council is helping New Yorker seek federal stimulus funding. Council members and other New York officials see broadband as a means to achieve greater educational capabilities, internet access and economic development. New York’s broadband adoption rate averages around 54 percent – below the national average. An April 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project said some 63 percent of adult Americans have broadband Internet connections at home,

“That’s probably where I see the synergies the most: how important broadband access and speed is to economic development in the state,” Reinfurt said.

In the portions of this story included below as Premium Content, BroadbandBreakfast.com provides further analysis of Reinfurt’s remarks, reports on the comments by New York City Councilwoman Gail Brewer, plus comments from non-profit and industry officials testifying at the hearing.

[Private_Free Trial][Private_Premium Content]Not only is broadband essential to rural areas in order for those communities to participate in the global community, but super-high-speed access is also essential, officials argued. And it’s not just rural areas that are underserved on this front, they said –but cities, too.

Reinfurt pointed to the Kauffman Foundation’s 2008 State New Economy Index, which shows that New York still only ranks among the third quartile – one range below the top – when graded on indicators in categories such as knowledge jobs, globalization, economic dynamism, transformation to a digital economy, and technological innovation capacity.

It ranks ninth in the nation when taking all of these factors into account, but 38th in online population, 37th in technology in schools, 24th for online agriculture, 21st in health information technology and 22nd in high-tech jobs. It ranks seventh for broadband telecommunications.

“We’re not keeping up … this is serious and we need to understand this,” Reinfurt said, adding that New York is hoping to receive another round of stimulus funds in 2010 that can help improve its broadband speeds, in particular.

New York City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, chair of the city council’s Committee on Technology and Government, noted that a 2006 survey conducted by the city showed that while internet service is readily available in New York, lower income population adoption rates are about half that of higher income – plus there is an absence of computer literacy skills among this group.

“Still, there is a lack of understanding of the value of broadband in children’s education,” she added.

Large businesses in the city are served well with broadband, but industrial and manufacturing entities have limited service options, she said. Many older owners feel they don’t even need computers. But still, city officials want to ensure the opportunity is there. New York is also pursuing ways to install wireless internet services in more public spaces throughout the city, including parks.

“We get very excited when we have one park in Brooklyn wired – it’s pretty frustrating,” Brewer said.

Expanded broadband service can be particularly helpful in the public health sector, Brewer continued. For example, a resident signing up for Medicaid should not have to fill out forms 27 times. Brewer hopes increased broadband services will allow more of these functions to be carried out online. But that will only work if people have access.

“The city’s going in that direction with a lot of applications, but you need the speed and the affordability to be able to do it at home,” she said.

Brewer hailed President Obama and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for being “extremely innovative” in thinking outside the box in terms of how to wire more parts of the country.

Other state and city groups also vocalized the merits of having more broadband coverage – including everything from teaching school children and their parents all the Internet has to offer, to connecting often isolated senior citizens to their friends and family who live far away, to helping communities of color transition to a green economy, to training laid-off or unemployed workers for jobs in the new economy.

The not-for-profit Per Scholars in the South Bronx, for example, has for 15 years provided over 80,00 computers and support to low-income families and nonprofits, and trained more than 3,000 New York City and Miami residents for careers in information technology.

“Many of our families … understand the importance of the Internet. They understand the importance of broadband and technology and understand it can have a profound impact on their lives. They just don’t know how to get it,” explained organization President Plinio Ayala. “The digital divide, the broadband divide, is not just giving someone a computer – it needs to be a comprehensive solution.”

Andrea Taylor, who directs the community affairs North America program for Microsoft, noted that New York has lost nearly 250,000 jobs in the financial sector alone in the past few years, and many workers won’t return to those jobs because they either don’t exist anymore, or they require a new skill set.

To address this, a joint venture of Microsoft and the National Governors Association will soon be introduced in New York. The effort offers e-learning training for workers to prepare them for sustainable jobs. The program has already been introduced in Washington state and Illinois. At least 10 million to 20 million Americans are in need of skill upgrades, Taylor added. And high-speed, widespread broadband is critical to the program’s success, she said.

“The real hunger and demand among adults to upgrade their skills and broadband is a part of that solution because of people don’t have access they can’t do the kind of training and prep that’s needed,” Taylor said. “It’s a critical process” needed for those people “who want to get skills and get the country moving again from an economic perspective.”

Brewer’s committee will hold a hearing this Wednesday in New York’s City Hall, which will focus on how small business and technology can work together in a way that ensures startups have the same opportunities as larger businesses.[/Private_Free Trial][/Private_Premium Content]

New York City and State Each Craft Broadband Policies; City Nixes Muni Wi-Fi

in States by

Broadband Census New York

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles surveying the state of broadband, and of broadband data, within each of the United States. The complete list is at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=713. Or visit the BroadbandCensus.com Broadband Wiki. Help build this wiki by making a contribution to BroadbandCensus.com.

August 7 – New York City should not create a comprehensive municipal wireless network, but should instead take targeted actions to increase the public availability of high-speed internet service and encourage broadband adoption, city officials said last week.

Among those actions include finding ways to get private providers to push fiber-optic wires into more parts of the city, including many industry parks that are currently unserved, officials and a consultant said at City Hall on July 30.

The likely rejection of a municipal wireless network comes at a time when other major cities that had dallied with the concept – including Philadelphia and San Francisco – are having second thoughts about the advisability of city-wide public Wi-Fi.

Instead of seeing wireless as the key driver to bridging the digital divide, the current hot topic in universal broadband is now fiber optics, judging by the New York City report.

“Our way of thinking is even though you are seeing a ton of activity in the wireless world, all of those have at their core a physical infrastructure component – a fiber component,” said city consultant Chris O’Brien, a partner with Diamond Management and Technology Consultants, speaking at City Hall.

“If you look at the future fiber is going to be the thing most in demand, because it is the thing that everything rides on,” said O’Brien. “The city should be looking for ways to encourage fiber deployment.”

Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber said that New York City welcomed Diamond’s report and would likely support its recommendations.

“Using technology and supporting its use among New Yorkers to improve the accessibility and efficiency of government and improve quality of life has been a hallmark of the Bloomberg Administration,” Lieber said in a statement provided by his office. Lieber serves under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and is responsible for economic development.

In addition to pushing fiber into more parts of the city, including industrial parks, the report calls for the city to increase broadband adoption by low-income households, to support competition, and to increase the number of wireless access points in high-density parts of the city, as well as public parks.

Lieber, O’Brien and City Council Member Gale Brewer each spoke at the July 30 briefing, which was following by a meeting of the New York City Broadband Advisory Committee. Established by 2006 legislation authored by Brewer, the advisory committee aims to use the Diamond report as a springboard to crafting detailed broadband policies.

“The city feels very enhusiastic about the suggestions,” said Mike Kelly, an aide to Lieber. “We are looking to craft a comprehensive set of initiatives that will tackle the digital divide issues.”

In addition to New York City, New York State is also in the midst of a comprehensive review of state-wide broadband initatives.

As with the New York City effort, the state approach seeks to ensure that high-speed internet service is available for all.

The New York State Council for Universal Broadband was formed in December 2007 and has begun holding quarterly meetings to develop a state-wide policy on broadband.

“In an age when our competitiveness depends on fast and easy access to information, too many communities in New York State still lack sufficient broadband access,” said Governor Paterson said in March, when the city announced a series of 2007-2008 broadband access grants.

The largest three grants went to New Vision Powerline Communications, Inc. ($1.3 million), to develop a broadband over power line inititiave in Onondaga County; Tech Valley Communications ($938,000), to work with municipal agencies and non-profit groups in Albany County to expand free internet services; and the Mount Hope Housing Co. ($776,000), to offer one year of free broadband access to residents of Bronx County, in New York City.

Although the state-wide effort is still in the midst of developing policy parameters, one group of technical experts and advocates calling themselves the Open Infrastructure Alliance (OIA) welcomed the governor’s plan and called four a four-part platform of their own.

OIA would fund universal broadband deployment by stripping broadband providers of hundreds of millions of dollars in “public interest perks given to incumbent telecom companies viewed as utilities, where now those companies are operating in a competitive market;” by proposing that the state collect its own detailed broadband data; by urging “a comprehensive examination of the successful broadband models to follow and models to avoid,” with a particular eye toward international successes; and by seeking to light up dark fiber currently not in use.

Another group actively following the New York city and state broadband initiatives is the Internet Society of New York. Joly MacFie, secretary of the society, said he felt there was merit to the city’s goal to “set up partnerships with groups that already work in [low-income and underserved] areas, and the technology companies, to look for funding” to drive universal broadband.

O’Brien, speaking at the New York City forum, said he was happy that the city has not gone all out on municipal wireless. He said that two years ago “muni wireless was a really hot topic. The city said, rather than doing what others [were doing], we are going to do a fact-based study and figure out what the coverage issues are like here.”

“Determining the most effective and feasible ways to increase broadband accessibility among New Yorkers is a priority,” Lieber said. “The findings of the consultant study and the ongoing input of the Broadband Advisory Committee will provide valuable insight as we look at what role the public and private sectors should play in promoting broadband accessibility throughout New York City.”

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