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