Sunday, August 3, 2008

New York Uses Diamond to Close the Digital Divide

Across the globe in cities like Philadelphia, Paris, and Beijing citizens and institutions enjoy 24/7 high-speed Internet access, using broadband technology. Even Manassas, VA (2006 pop. est. 38,066) has broadband over power lines, making the Internet as close as a wall socket. The Big Apple, however, is lost in its sauce. What blocks New York from closing the digital divide so that every section of the five boroughs has the latest in e-communications?

On July 30, 2008, Diamond Management & Technology Consultants’ Chris O’Brien briefed the New York City Council, the Mayor’s Office, and the Broadband Advisory Committee on the findings of a study of access, cost and connectivity challenges faced by NYC residents, small to medium size businesses and large businesses. Research uncovered that the demand for greater bandwidth that comes from streaming video and HDTV required replacing existing copper cables with fiber optics and installing it in uncovered areas. Existing cable services gave access to 98% of NYC residences and 87% of NYC residences had access through DSL. Actual subscription rates varied based on socio-demographics. For example only 26% of NYC Housing Authority tenants subscribed to broadband. A low subscriber rate is also the case for New Yorkers aged 50 years and over. The common reasons for not subscribing were the affordability of computers, the cost of monthly subscriber fees, the need for computer training, and not seeing the value of in-home access.

In fact, one-third of people accessing the Internet at public libraries that were polled stated the library was their sole source. About half of them go to the library three times per week for this purpose.

Business users were split between those having T-1 lines and using DSL. Large firms experienced lower costs due to their T-1 line investment, while small to medium size firms had comparable cost to those of residences if they chose DSL.

Shaun Belle, Mt. Hope Housing executive director and chairman of the Broadband Advisory Committee and Jose Rodriguez, committee member and president of HITN TV both recognized that the study validated what they knew as on-the-ground technology service providers.

New York City is the United States most populated city and its largest media market. To stay competitive internationally New York must get up to speed to that of San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia. New York City Council Committee on Technology in Government, chaired by Gale A. Brewer (C.D. 6), exists “to make better use of technology to save money, improve City services, and bring residents, businesses and non-profits closer to government and their communities.” The city explains the relative slow pace in the roll out of municipal wireless and broadband infrastructure is due to a concern for avoiding quick obsolescence yet high installation costs. Another concern is using programs that effect technology adoption by low-income households. Given a significant proportion of black New Yorkers are low-income and/or residents of NYC Housing Authority properties, it’s imperative that we become proactive in our demand for technology so as not to become obsolete as the broadband infrastructure is laid.

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