Sunday, December 14, 2008

Broadband Key Issue in NY

Developing and implementing New York’s broadband initiative is a key and complex issue in the state. Edward Reinfurt, NYSTAR Executive Director and Chair of the State’s Governmental Initiatives Action Team, spoke on December 10th before the NY Assembly Standing Committee on Governmental Operations.

Reinfurt told the Committee how detailed mapping plays an important role and is critical to expanding broadband capabilities to meet the state’s objectives. He explained that mapping is the first crucial step needed to increase service because you need to know exactly where the underserved and unserved communities and regions are located in the state. However, mapping has proven to be very difficult, complicated, and a frustrating exercise for the state and almost every other state. Due to FCC regulations, the state lacks the authority to compel the broadband industry to provide the data it desires.

Even on a voluntary basis, the state has been unable to demonstrate that it has the mechanisms in place to gather the needed information from the private sector and meet the private sector concerns on releasing proprietary information.

However, recently the NYS Office of Cyber Security & Critical Infrastructure Coordination and other agencies such as the Public Service Commission are making progress in this direction. At a meeting in November, information was presented on a model that can be used to map a single county which may serve as an example of what can be done on a larger statewide scale. In addition, the Office of Cyber Security has a database of infrastructure assets which can help in mapping efforts.

Mapping is a large undertaking but to do the work, the state needs additional data and resources. Even with more information and help, the state will only be able to estimate where coverage is, and even these techniques will not apply to New York City. According to Reinfurt, a model which may not be 100% precise is still far superior to no model and would help to identify and build a priority list of underserved areas.

In addition to the discussion on mapping, Reinfurt presented three recommendations to the NY Assembly Committee to help meet broadband objectives. These include:

  • Designating a single state entity with responsibility for managing the various aspects for expanding broadband coverage. Up to now, collaboration has been voluntary and responsibility needs to be formally established
  • Allowing the state to use all of the state assets to enhance broadband coverage throughout the state. The state’s underserved area do not have broadband because the return on investment is not seen as attractive for broadband companies
  • Laying conduit or putting fiber in makes sense when construction is already taking place. When roads are being dug up or buildings being built, agencies need to consider laying conduit down or putting fiber in at this time