New York abandons $157 million broadband plan, putting vendors in a bind

The proposal was developed by the de Blasio administration, and dozens of companies were notified in October 2021 that they would be selected for the work. But the details of the funding and contracts were still up in the air when Mayor Eric Adams took office in January.

“All our hard work was wasted on handshakes and pen strokes,” said Marg Suarez, who worked on the RFP with NYC Mesh. NYC Mesh, a nonprofit community Wi-Fi provider, has been involved in months of negotiations with the city over what would be a nearly $8 million project to expand connectivity to neighborhoods without high-speed broadband.

The New York City Office of Technology and Innovation said the decision not to award the applicants a contract was in line with the goals of Adams’ restructured technology department, which decided to prioritize the near-term needs of New Yorkers without Internet access.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goals for internet accessibility were formalized in his January 2020 Internet Master Plan, which aims to add diversity and competition to the internet service provider market while expanding the population of New Yorkers who can access broadband at home and at work. designed. . Mayor Adams had different goals.

“From the beginning, this administration has prioritized underserved communities in our efforts to ensure equitable broadband access,” said OTI spokesman Ryan Birchmeier. Crain’s. He pointed to the Big Apple Connect app. Launched in September, it partnered with Optimum and Spectrum to provide free broadband service to 90,000 households living in 130 New York City Housing Authority buildings.

Birchmeier also hinted at the possibility of a future RFP for a permanent broadband provider to “establish strategic stewardship of city assets and ensure revenue streams are focused on funding equitable access to the latest broadband technologies for all New Yorkers.”

The office said it is in the process of determining where the $157 million in capital allocated to the previous plan will go.

There are only a few major ISPs in New York, due to the upfront costs of running fiber-optic cable under the concrete of a crowded city. As a result, the big providers, including Altice, Charter Communications and Verizon, are often the only players in a given neighborhood, and their bundle plans can run upwards of $80 a month—for faster connections than most residents need, even if they work or commute. lessons at home.

The Internet Master Plan sought to share city infrastructure, including bus shelters to hospitals, with a smaller group of providers, many run by women or minorities, who could use physical structures to expand their wire or hub networks. The goal was to reach an additional 1.6 million residents.

The city’s October 2021 announcement of winning vendors, including NYC Mesh, seemed like a big step forward.

“Then we were in negotiations,” Suarez said. “We settled with the city for payments. We were given presentations. But there was no funding.”

He said that there is no progress in winter and spring. Then, in September, the city unveiled Big Apple Connects, and in October came OTI’s strategic plan. At the time, Suarez said, there were whispers that the RFP would never be executed.

Suarez said NYC Mesh will continue to build current, mostly volunteer-run nodes, using some of the connections and access to city infrastructure it has gained during the process. But, he said, with the pending funding, expansion will be faster.

The Adams administration, which took office amid the Covid-19 outbreak that has kept many New Yorkers at home, has stressed the need to address short-term access issues before working on more difficult infrastructure questions. Over the summer, it announced 2,000 new Link5G kiosks, as well as a group of Gigabit Hubs, free locations with high-speed internet. One is run by Silicon Harlem, one of the RFP applicants.

The change appeared to backfire on a group of start-up, capital-minded providers who say it’s important to open up the market to more players.

“We believe that a thriving and competitive broadband market that gives New Yorkers and all Americans a choice in Internet service providers is absolutely critical,” said Virginia Lam Abrams, executive vice president of government affairs and strategic advancement for the Starry provider. NYCHA worked with the city on affordable access for residents, but did not participate in the RFP. “From a policy perspective, increasing competition and choice must be part of the conversation and policy dialogue if we are serious about taking meaningful steps to permanently close the digital divide.”

While priorities and strategies are open to debate, the bigger issue is that an expensive, important project like new broadband can trump any administration. Prashanth Vijay, co-founder and CEO of Midtown’s Flume Internet, said on the Divide podcast this month that it could take 15 years to build the right infrastructure in Brooklyn alone.

“It’s a daunting task to start this project knowing that IT or transport authorities may change two or three times during the project,” Vijay said.

Source link