Fueling New York’s need for (internet) speed



Public officials around the country have put increasing emphasis on expanding broadband internet access, citing the importance of a high-speed connection for students, entrepreneurs and pretty much everyone else. New York is no exception, but there’s still some catching up to do in the city and the state.


Last summer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration released an audit on Verizon’s delivery of a fiber internet franchise agreement and described its efforts as “an alarming failure.” The mayor’s team notified Verizon that its business with city agencies would now come before City Hall, which could block discretionary agreements if a company were considered a bad actor.

At the time, de Blasio made it clear he viewed bringing Verizon’s Fiber Optic Services (FiOS) to all households, which the company promised to do by June 30, 2014, as critical to reducing income inequality. His office noted that 22 percent of city households – and 36 percent of those living in poverty – lacked internet. The mayor had previously committed to ensuring all families and businesses can access affordable, high-speed broadband by 2025. The franchise agreement with Verizon, whose FiOS is considered faster than other broadband methods, was aimed at introducing more competition to the broadband market and driving down costs. Verizon disagreed with the city’s assessment that it had not finished putting its fiber network in the ground, arguing it had encountered difficulties accessing buildings because of uncooperative landlords and other obstacles.

A year later, the city still feels the company is failing to fulfill its responsibilities, according to the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. The mayor’s former counsel, Maya Wiley, who was charged with overseeing the expansion of broadband access, has since left the administration, and DOITT said no Verizon contracts have been halted.


“It's no secret, the city is not satisfied with Verizon's effort, and in fact, recent negotiations – which we had hoped would result in an actionable plan for moving forward in a measurable way – have broken down. It's disappointing from the city's perspective and quite clear we need to evaluate all of our options for holding them accountable. While no contracts were stopped, the city has gained a much better understanding of the unique telecommunication requirements of its many agencies, and has used this insight to negotiate master service agreements with multiple vendors so that there is adequate competition for telecommunication services. The reviews will continue to assist the agencies in getting the best contract value and to aggregate demand where possible.”

– Maya Worman, DOITT’s assistant commissioner for external affairs and communication


Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said residents have complained repeatedly about not having access to FiOS during a forum she hosted last summer. However, Brewer said she had heard that Verizon faced technical and administrative challenges and suggested the city look at gatekeepers that may be preventing Verizon from installing its network.


“I think the city should be looking more at the gatekeepers, you know, the management agents,” she said. “A lot of these tall, big buildings already had a cable company – sometimes Time Warner, sometimes RCN. … I don’t know if you have to get the co-op board, the managing agent – you have got to figure out where to put the cable. You’re supposed to be able to have it in every building – whatever people want, if they want RCN, if they want Time Warner, if they want FiOS, but I hear about a lot of buildings that just have one. The reason I hear about them is because people want something else.”

– Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, former chairwoman of the New York City Council Committee on Technology


As part of the rollout of his 2016 legislative agenda in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised access to high-speed broadband, at 100 megabits per second or better, to every New Yorker by the end of 2018. Cuomo has repeatedly touted the approval of the merger of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications and the requirement that Charter offer high-speed broadband to 145,000 unserved customers over a four-year period.

Earlier this month while unveiling the first round of New NY Broadband Program awards, Cuomo highlighted the progress the state has made and promised that New York would be the first state in the nation to deliver high-speed broadband to every resident.


“With this program, New York State will be the first state in the nation to have high-speed broadband all throughout the state. The first state in the nation. I will tell you, it does my heart good when government actually sees a problem and engages in the problem and comes up with a solution and then gets it done in real time, because that does not happen often … Upstate, virtually by the way, has very little, and to the extent it does exist, it exists only in those areas of high concentration, which happen to be the areas that are already doing better economically.”

-Gov. Andrew Cuomo


When private companies began to put in broadband infrastructure, they focused on areas with high concentration of people and businesses, leaving rural areas behind. In upstate New York, there are higher concentrations of areas without high-speed broadband in the Capital Region, the Southern Tier and the North Country.

The second round of the New NY Broadband Program, announced at the governor’s press conference earlier this month, will target the last 3 percent of the state that does not have access to high-speed broadband internet, which would allow the governor to reach his goal.

State Sen. Joseph Griffo, the chairman of the state Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications, told City & State that he is focused on helping areas of the state that are off the grid or lagging behind.


“Economic growth cannot happen without broadband access, and strong education and health care sectors are also reliant on high-speed internet access. I am pleased that the New NY Broadband Program has issued the first round of awards to help connect homes to high-speed internet, and I look forward to the second round of awards very soon. The requirements pursuant to the Charter-Time Warner Cable merger will also help upstate in particular gain access to high-speed internet. I am also following the FCC notice and comment rule-making process closely because broadband coverage is regulated at the federal level. On the state level, I hope to enact a bill in 2017 that I carry with Sen. Little (S.6090), which would help with better cell phone coverage upstate by establishing a uniform state siting process for the placement of wireless facilities.”

– State Sen. Joseph Griffo, chairman of the state Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications