Archive for Verizon

Want to read my writing? Check People’s Production House

In order to simplify my life and give the company that pays me the full value of my work and energy, I will now be posting to my blog on the People’s Production House website. RSS feed coming soon.

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FCRC rubber stamps Verizon franchise

The Franchise and Concession Review Commission voted unanimously today to approve the Verizon franchise agreement. In response, Common Cause/New York and People’s Production House released this statement.

People’s Production House will continue to educate the public and organize towards community control of communications technology. Common Cause/New York will continue promoting open government in New York.

Check out these past blog posts on the railroading of this deal:

And background on what fiber optics will mean for New Yorkers here:

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City Council members, PPH, and Common Cause call for delay in FCRC vote

As reported in Crain’s NY Business, consumer groups want franchise delay. After taking our concerns to the public hearing yesterday, we will join City Council members on the steps of City Hall today at 11:00am.

At the press conference, Councilmember Gale Brewer (chair of the Technology in Government Committee), Councilmember Tony Avella (chair of the Zoning and Franchise Committee), Susan Lerner from Common Cause/NY, Russ Haven from NYPIRG, Chuck Bell from Consumers Union, and I will call for a delay in the Franchise and Concession Review Committee vote on the proposed cable franchise for Verizon to permit greater public scrutiny.

A deal of this magnitude deserves more than a passing glance from the public and our elected officials. It will largely determine how we watch TV, make phone calls, and use the Internet in New York City for the next 20 years. The fine print tells you that this franchise is not designed to serve all New Yorkers equally. Verizon wants it rubber stamped before enough of us notice.

For my specific concerns with the deal, read my testimony here. The response from DoITT to these concerns were insufficient. For example, when Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer asked why the penalty for a missed appointment dropped from a month of free service to $25, the answer was that “competition” will ensure good customer service.

Even if that were true, the new, lesser consumer protections will soon be written into the new Time Warner and Cabelvision franchises and go into effect immediately citywide. Meanwhile, the “competition” from Verizon that is supposed to provide a new and improved protection will go into effect slowly and unevenly. Huge portions of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens will have no competition and weaker protections for the next 4-9 years. That’s just bad policy.

For other criticism of the hearing schedule, see Bruce Kushnick, “Is New York City and Verizon trying to slip one by you?” and Broadbandreports.com, “Interested In Pretending You Have Influence On Verizon/NYC Deal?

Although this might be getting ahead of myself, this whole situation shows that we need procedural reforms in the franchising process:

  • The public notice of hearings needs to be more extensive.
  • The proposed franchise agreement needs to be made available for public review.
  • There needs to be more time for public review.
  • We need a Cable Franchise Oversight Committee with direct community participation.

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Public Hearing on proposed Verizon cable TV franchise tomorrow

The City and Verizon have negotiated a deal that will have a greater impact on our television watching and Internet usage than any other action the City or a company will take in the next 20 years – and you have been shut out of the discussion. The 6-billion-dollar deal (see my earlier post for background) to build a fiber optic network throughout the entire city was negotiated behind closed doors.

As part of the franchise approval process, the Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC) is required to hold a public hearing. That meeting will be held tomorrow, Tuesday, May 20, from 3-6pm at the New York City College of Technology, 285 Jay Street.

As far as I can tell, this is the first place this information has been posted online. This is another instance of a supposedly “public” meeting falling in the city where no one can hear it. Just because you don’t lock the doors doesn’t make the meeting public.

Section 371 of the City Charter prescribes for the publication of notice for a public hearing on a proposed franchise agreement, but the requirements are weak: publish in the City Record and a daily newspaper – nothing about the DoITT website, even though that’s where the City proudly proclaimed that it had reached a deal with Verizon. I don’t expect that many people can make it to downtown Brooklyn at 3pm on a workday regardless of how much notice they have, but by not properly publicizing the hearing the FCRC has cast the legitimacy of the entire process into doubt.

The FCRC has also scheduled a special public meeting for 11am next Tuesday, May 27 at 22 Reade Street, presumably to rubber stamp the franchise.

Section 371 also requires that notice of the public hearing indicate the place where copies of the proposed agreement may be obtained by all those interested. I don’t know how the public can be expected to comment on a document they cannot review. (Leaking to the press doesn’t count.) Since the proper city agencies have not done so, I am posting the proposed franchise to the Web for download here:

I’ll have my own summary and analysis of the franchise in the near term, but there’s very little to be happy about unless you live in Staten Island or want to wait 10-16 years for choice in cable TV or faster Internet speeds. I will also try to record tomorrow’s hearing.

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Verizon FiOS proposes citywide buildout

Yesterday, Verizon proposed to build a fiber optic network covering all of New York City. The proposal comes just one day after the City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) published notification of the RFP for cable television providers, which is how you know DoITT’s RFP (request for proposals) and Verizon’s proposal were worked out in tandem over months of closed-door negotiations.

Verizon is offering to finish the installation by midyear 2014, provide a public safety INET (institutional network), pay franchise fees equivalent to five percent of gross revenues on cable TV service, channels for public access. As the precise details emerge and once I’ve had a chance to read the RFP, I’ll give you my assessment on the fine points, but that doesn’t sound like enough off the bat given the scope of the deal.

A hearing from the Franchise and Concession Review Committee is forthcoming. I will keep you posted on that. You should plan to attend.

For background and a discussion of the issues at stake, see the article I just published with Gotham Gazette: Fiber Optics: Bringing the Next Big Thing to New York

This is another example of a phenomenon you may have heard or read me describe before: The general policy and market rules of media simply do not apply to New York City. Other cities are having trouble attracting or holding onto a $20 million investment for a wireless network while New York has a company proposing to invest $5 billion over 6 years to build a fiber optic network and become the second (third or fourth if you count satellite) entrant to the video service. Keep in mind that the incumbents are not citywide: Time Warner and Cablevision currently divide the city between them:

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(Click the image to see the map of current franchise areas.)

The scale is hard to fathom. It’s like $100 per person per year or $300 per household, of which there are about $3.1 million – though that’s not counting businesses. It’s around $3 million per year for each of the city’s 322 square miles – as if all those square miles cost the same or were worth the same.

But the rate the money goes into the city is not the most important number. The important number is how fast it goes out. How much will Verizon make off each person, business, or square mile, and over what time frame? Once they put this infrastructure in place, they are going to hold on tight and make as much money as they can off of it. And anyone who wants to compete at the speed levels Verizon will be offering will have to match their massive investment.

We might only get one shot at building a fully fiber optic network for our city. We should try to get it right.

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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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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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