Saturday, December 24, 2005

"Broadband is a fundamental civil right and human right"
New York flirts with fat pipes for all
"Broadband is a fundamental civil right and human right"
By Marguerite Reardon
Published: Thursday 22 December 2005

New York City on Wednesday took a step closer to a comprehensive plan for bringing broadband to its citizens.

In the last session of the year, the City Council of New York passed legislation that creates a special broadband commission to advise mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city council on how the resources of city government can be used to help roll out broadband throughout the city. The goal of the commission is to educate the general public about broadband and the newest communication technologies, and to give New York City residents the opportunity to comment on how to close the digital divide.

Bill de Blasio, a city council member, said during the session on Wednesday: "Broadband is a fundamental civil right and human right. This legislation will start us down this road."

Today only 38 per cent of the city's eight million residents subscribe to a broadband service, according to a report prepared by the New York City Economic Development Corporation in March. This, despite the fact that access to broadband service is nearly ubiquitous throughout the city. Verizon Communications reports that about 85 to 90 per cent of New Yorkers have access to DSL service, and Time Warner Cable, the predominant cable provider, reports that 100 per cent of its customers have access to cable modem service.

Gale Brewer, the city councilwoman who sponsored the bill, said many New Yorkers do not subscribe to broadband because it's too expensive. She said that small businesses and not-for-profit groups in many parts of the city either have no access to broadband or find it costly.

Other cities, such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, plan to build citywide wireless networks based on wi-fi technology. Officials in these cities, like those in New York City, believe that access to affordable broadband is crucial to the economic development of the city. But Brewer said New York City is still deciding on the best approach for its citizens.

She said: "The reports from the committee may find that we are already well served by DSL and cable. But all we've ever known in New York until now has been Verizon and the cable companies, so I think it's important that we educate ourselves about what else is available."

The legislation requires that the committee hold two public hearings in every borough during its three years of existence. In addition, the committee will issue a report yearly with recommendations to the mayor and city council on how the government can accelerate the construction of broadband infrastructure throughout New York City.

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