What’s Next for New York City’s Internet Master Plan?


The New York City Council Committee on Technology and the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises held an oversight hearing Sept. 19 to question the Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI) about the current status of the Internet Master Plan.

That plan was first released in January 2020 and was aimed at bridging the digital divide; however, the effort was halted in May 2022 when Chief Technology Officer Matt Fraser said at a committee hearing that the program was being re-evaluated.

Councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez, chair of the Technology Committee, told Government Technology that the only information the councilmembers have on this delay is what Fraser had already shared. One major factor at play is that OTI is a new office that has absorbed other agencies that previously operated independently. She also speculated that because the plan came out in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic could have also been a factor in its delay.


With the federal broadband funding opportunities coming down to state and local governments, Gutiérrez said she hopes that this focus will “elevate the urgency” through which the city implements the plan.

“We just need to have a sense of what happened,” she said. “Why was it tabled? What are the best practices? What is the timeline?”

THE HEARING

The focus of the hearing leaned heavily toward the launch of a new program rather than concrete plans for moving forward with the original Internet Master Plan.

When OTI’s Executive Director of Franchise Administration Brett Sikoff was asked what the main reason for the pause of the Internet Master Plan’s implementation was, he pointed to the need for further evaluation to ensure no duplication of efforts occur with other OTI initiatives.

Gutiérrez posed the question of how much of the $157 million slated for the Internet Master Plan has been used to support the newly launched Big Apple Connect program. Sikoff stated that to his knowledge, none of that money has been used for the new program.

Gutiérrez underlined the significance of the recent announcement that there will be no more snow days in the city as students can access school online. Her concern is that if families are not properly equipped with appropriate devices and services, or lack the appropriate skills to use these things, the digital divide for students will be widened further. She recommended the creation of a website dedicated to informing the public about updates to the Internet Master Plan.

OTHER INITIATIVES

Big Apple Connect is the major initiative among those Sikoff mentioned, which was officially announced the morning of the hearing. The program will make high-speed Internet and basic cable TV available to those living in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments. The program was initially piloted at eight developments and has now been expanded to more than 100.

The program was first launched as a pilot in late summer 2022, has an expected three-year duration and is estimated to cost around $30 million each year.

Big Apple Connect, in an effort to get people service as quickly as possible as a short-term solution, solicited RFPs from three specific Internet service providers.

Some of the councilmembers noted concerns about this method’s impact on competition opportunities for smaller providers in the long term, and the committees raised concerns about the lack of minority/women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) providers invited to participate, which was a major component of the Internet Master Plan.

Sikoff said the hope is that there will be multiple providers to choose from over the next one to three years.

Other initiatives cited by Sikoff included the LinkNYC and LinkNYC 5G programs, which introduced public Wi-Fi kiosks throughout the city.

Gale Brewer, who represents the 6th New York City council district, noted the limitations of the program, arguing that service centered around the kiosk does not provide an adequate space for residents to access Internet.

Specific information regarding federal funding opportunities for broadband and how those dollars will be spent was not offered during this hearing.





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