Archive for nyc

Report from the Queens hearing of the Broadband Advisory Committee

The NYC Broadband Advisory Committee held its fourth public hearing on Monday, March 3, at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. Much thanks to New York Greater Metropolitan Area chapter of the Internet Society for documenting the hearing. His detailed summary and a full audio recording is available on the ISOC-NY website.

The highlight for me was when former Senator Larry Pressler, who authored the 1996 Telecommunications Act said, “If it is found that in New York City the spectrum and the broadband is not totally out there, that would be a tale that needs to be told.” Indeed.

Councilmember Brewer asked him a question about E-Rate, the federal program to fund Internet access in schools and libraries, and he agreed that it needs to be revisited. As it is now, the federal government tightly restricts E-Rate funds so they can’t even be used to cover access for administrators; they can’t pay for necessary hardware or training; and they can’t support public access, even though schools pay for bandwidth to be available 100% of the time while school is only in session about 15% of the time. In other words, E-Rate is easy money for the big Internet service providers.

If the BAC, or even just Brewer, is pondering reforms to federal policy, that is an extremely positive development. To date, very few municipal broadband task forces have addressed themselves to this area, even though there are many current regulations that hamstring their efforts to improve local infrastructure and expand high speed Internet access. Any worthwhile municipal broadband plan must include policy reform at the federal level.

Although I had already testified at the first hearing in the Bronx, I testified in Queens to offer new suggestions for increasing public engagement in the process, specifically among immigrants who are not aware the process is going on or who cannot attend daytime hearings.

I tried to play a couple of clips from interviews we’ve done – Arturo Mendoza, a construction worker who lives in Ridgewood, Queens, (in Spanish) and Beverly from Canarsie, Brooklyn (in English) – but we ran into technical difficulties. Ironically, that just drove home the point that we need to do more to include people like Arturo and Beverly – working people with limited access to the Internet – in the city’s broadband expansion deliberations, since they’re the ones the process is supposed to serve. (Many more clips are available on the DEI section of the PPH website.)

Councilmember Brewer responded positively to that notion and said she had just been discussing it with Andrew Friedman of Make the Road NYC. She suggested a supplemental event with that specific focus. PPH is now exploring that possibility with our partner organizations. I’m also preparing a brief to distribute to the city’s ethnic press through the New York Community Media Alliance.

I should be clear that, while some people who should be a part of the process have not been able to participate, the Broadband Advisory Committee, Brewer’s office, and Diamond Consultants (working for the NYC Economic Development Corporation) have included a vast range of perspectives. Diamond surveyed library patrons in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, and a random sampling of public housing residents from across the city. While the library survey was only in English, the NYCHA survey, which was distributed by mail, was in English, Spanish, simplified Chinese, and Russian.

Those surveys are each only one of many sources of information for Diamond’s report, which could be released anytime in the coming weeks. The report will include a presentation of findings, as well as a complete plan for expanding Internet access throughout the five boroughs. The Broadband Advisory Committee is also supposed to present a report within a year of its inception, which would be April 17 if you start the clock from their first meeting.

The BAC will be holding its Staten Island hearing in the near future. I’ll post details when I have them.

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Slingshot Hip Hop showing in NYC

New Yorkers: Your first chance to see Slingshot Hip Hop:

Slingshot Hip Hop is the highly-anticipated documentary about Palestinian hip hop. It premiered recently at Sundance to standing ovations. I had the opportunity to see the finished film in Oakland recently.

It was eye opening for me, as it will be for anyone who has not witnessed or experienced the brutality of Israeli occupation. Beyond that, it is one of the best documentaries on hip hop I have seen. It deftly captures the relationship between the violence of everyday life and music as a form of nonviolent resistance. I look forward to the impact this movie will have on the world.

Jackie Salloum, director of Slingshot Hip Hop, was a keynote speaker at Allied Media Conference 2006. She discussed her experience making the film and later showed clips of the work in progress. If Slingshot Hip Hop is the kind of media you want to learn more about, register for Allied Media Conference 2008.

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Queens public hearing of the NYC Broadband Advisory Committee

On Monday, the New York City Broadband Advisory Committee is holding its Queens public hearing:

WHEN: Monday, March 3, 2008, from 1pm to 4pm
WHERE: LaGuardia Community College, 31-10 Thomson Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101

Sorry for the late notice, but I just found out yesterday. It’s not even posted on the BAC’s blog. (I’m actually getting an error when I try to load the page right now.)

If you have any questions, post them as comments below. I hope you can be there, though once again the hearing is in the middle of the day. I plan to attend and record it to audio, so stay tuned for updates.

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PPH at the GMC

This Sunday is the 5th annual New York City Grassroots Media Conference. You should attend!

PPH will be there in force. Abdulai, Radha, and Felix from our Community News Production Insitute are doing a workshop on “Reporting from the streets: Workers Redefine Media Justice.”

Radio Rootz, our youth program, is doing a workshop on creating a vox pop, which is like a quick way to capture the views and voices of multiple people on the street. The workshop is not listed in the conference program, but it’s at 12:15pm in room c112.

We’ll be handing out flyers with info about the Rootz workshop. We’ll also be handing out flyers letting people know that they can invite the Digital Expansion Initiative to visit their organization to discuss the city’s plans for expanding access to the Internet. There are big things on the horizon for your computer. If you don’t know about it, drop us a line.

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What does the DTV Transition mean for New York City?

My latest column for Gotham Gazette is on the government-mandated transition to digital television (DTV). It takes you through all of the places where this process can go wrong: the coupons the government is handing out for the digital converter boxes, your TV, your antenna, the broadcaster, and the public education.

Since we published the article, one more snafu has come to light. Everyone I spoke to recommended getting a coupon and a converter and setting up your TV as soon as possible. However, the $40 coupons the government is offering expire 90 days from when they’re mailed. I don’t know why they put an expiration date on them.

It wouldn’t be too much of an issue except the Echostar converter box that is set to retail for $39.99 – the only hope a consumer has to avoid an out-of-pocket expense for this transition – won’t hit the market for another 4 months.

So if you act fast, you’ll have less choice of what kind of converter to purchase. But if you wait, you’ll have less time to fix any problem you have getting a digital picture on your TV.

One other part of the story that didn’t make it into the article but is worth considering is the impact the digital transition will have on tinkering and hobbyists. This came up in my interview with the engineer from WNYW. It was clear that he’d been tinkering with transmitters and electronics his whole life and he lamented the barrier that digital technology posed to anyone getting into that.

Digital signals either work or they don’t. Analog has a grey area that invites tweaking. Most of the digital technology is proprietary and built on secrets, while analog is right in front of you on the motherboard. It’s not easy to understand transistors and capacitors and math and physics, but if you can learn by poking it and assessing the feedback in a way that’s much harder to do with digital.

The WNYW engineer sounded almost wistful when he said that he never understood those Star Trek episodes where a society that had in its possession some advanced technology nevertheless slipped into a primitive state because they couldn’t figure out how to operate or repair the machinery. He always figured you could figure it out through tinkering. But now that he’s installing his station’s new digital transmitters, he sees how alien and impenetrable technology can be.

From a current-day consumer perspective, it’s most absurd that the government coupon and education programs would be so impenetrable. But there may also be a time when we lament not being able to tune a TV with a paper clip or build a radio with a soldering iron and grit.

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Two Steps Forward to an Open Internet

Note: This is my contribution to “Open Internet Week” on the Free Press Action Network. Anyone can join in and start posting on the site, so please do.

This is an auspicious week for champions of an open Internet in the United States. On Tuesday, Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Chip Pickering (R-MS) introduced the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008” (HR 5353). And on Friday, Media Alliance and a strong cohort of Bay Area organizations are hosting the Oakland Digital Inclusion Summit (ODIS).

If you’re in the Bay Area and you care about the open Internet, you should absolutely come to Laney College on Friday for this summit. The event starts at 10:00am, goes to 6:00, and is free.

Sadly, for these steps forward, the Senate has taken a step back this week by passing a version of the federal eavesdropping bill that grants immunity to the telcos that broke the law to participate in the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying. The House can still stand tall in conference committee, but time is running out.

The Internet Freedom Preservation Act would require the FCC to ensure net neutrality on the Internet. If I could take a pen to it, I would revise section 3(4) of the bill, which proscribes favoritism “based upon its source, ownership, or destination on the Internet” to include type of content. But I think that’s covered in other sections and overall it’s a wonderful and principled piece of legislation.

The bill mandates that the FCC hold at least 8 summits across the country over the course of the year to gather public input on Internet policy. The measure even specifies a 30-day advance notice for the summits so the commission can’t cheat its way around the public engagement.

As I said, the people of Oakland are not waiting for the FCC to come to them. And in contrast to an FCC hearing where the public submits testimony before the dais, tomorrow’s Oakland Summit includes a variety of formats to strengthen horizontal networks among the many local community-based digital inclusion efforts.

There are many measures that I hope will have their day in Congress in 2008. The Community Broadband Act would preempt state bans on government-funded, publicly-accessible broadband infrastructure. The Broadband Census Act, also from Rep. Markey, would greatly improve the federal government’s collection of data on Internet access (though Markey traded a specific 2 Mbps measure of broadband that was in the original draft in exchange for industry and bipartisan support, giving basic DSL service a reprieve).

I’m looking forward to 2009, when we might see the return of vital federal programs like the funding for Community Technology Centers (which Bush cut in 2002) and the Technology Opportunity Program (which Bush ended in 2004).

The potential downside to federal funding is that it could all wind up in the coffers of a single, dubious nonprofit like One Economy or Connect Kentucky that work in tandem with telco incumbents. To counter that, we need to educate lawmakers about the healthy variety of existing solutions, make the government grant process more accessible, and increase the capacity of community-based organizations to respond to requests for proposals (RFPs).

In using the “digital inclusion” framework, we are saying that we need to address the digital divide at the levels of Internet access or deployment, hardware provision, training and education, content production, and advocacy and organizing. And we are quick to demand that municipal broadband efforts facilitate or fund all of these areas. But our smaller organizations are only capable of one or two pieces of this work. And when we do collaborate, the tendency is to work within our specific discipline where we share a constituency, a culture, and funders.

We should be collaborating and interconnecting across disciplines, combining the best our community has to offer so we can offer a coherent, full-spectrum solution built on principles of efficiency, localism, and openness. We need to make the case that our locally-specific, community-based approaches are more effective than a top-down, industry-driven, cookie cutter solution.

Gatherings like the Oakland Summit are an important step towards making this happen. Such collaborations are the key to fulfilling the promises spelled out in the Internet Freedom Preservation Act and to laying the groundwork for more positive Internet policies in the coming years.

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A sneak peak at the new AMC website

We’re on the verge of sending out an announcement heralding the new Allied Media Conference website. Follow the link for a sneak peak (and let me know if you find any bugs or problems).

We’ve had to hold back on a lot of our outreach and publicity as we finished up the website, so get ready for a flood of good news from your favorite national conference. For starters, check out the AMC 2008 vision statement.

To make sure you stay on top of all of the latest AMC developments, visit the website and subscribe to the email list. Heck, go ahead and be the first to pre-register. The AMC will be held June 20-22, 2008, in Detroit, Michigan.

A big thank you to the Chicago Technology Cooperative for building such an excellent website and to Joe Namy for his gorgeous design.

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The business of disregarding privacy

This article in yesterday’s New York Times, Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecom Industry reminded me that I never posted a link to my last Gotham Gazette article on the current battles at the intersection of technology and policy.

The article grows out of what I wrote about here following my first GG article, the telcos push for immunity for participating in illegal spying, and the case of Warshak v US, which could for the first time apply the Fourth Amendment to remotely-stored emails and personal files.

One quick note on the topic of immunity for telco corporations that broke the law at the behest of the executive branch. I would almost be willing to accept the argument that they were just following orders and shouldn’t be liable for the government’s overreaching – if anyone in the government was being held accountable for the illegal spying. But the civil cases against the telcos are the best chance we have of bringing any of this to light, so we need to do what we can to see that they move forward.

My next article, coming out this week, will look at the various wi-fi projects underway in New York City.

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my Gotham Gazette article on the State Assembly hearing on net neutrality

Last week, I mentioned the State Assembly’s hearing on net neutrality with a link to my testimony.

You can check my article on the hearing on GothamGazette.com.

The super-low-quality audio of the hearing is up here:

I’ll have transcripts of the audio up soon.

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Testimony from State Assembly hearing on net neutrality

I was finally able to post my testimony from last week’s State Assembly hearing on net neutrality. I’m working on an article about the hearing and will post more thoughts on it soon.

You can read the net neutrality advocates’ press release here.

Also check out Tim Karr’s article on the hearing.

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