New York to examine creating citywide broadband network

by Sewell Chan, NY Times

Even as a contractor moves ahead with plans to install wireless networks in 10 parks, New York City intends to study whether to establish a citywide broadband network similar to those planned by cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco.

The study, commissioned by the city's Economic Development Corporation, will examine "whether there is a need for a citywide broadband network as a municipal initiative" and what legal, technical, logistical and economic challenges such a project would involve, according to a request for proposals that the city released on June 14.

The request for proposals was mentioned in a brief item in Crain's New York Business on June 26, but has otherwise attracted little attention until yesterday when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg mentioned it.

The mayor was addressing a project by the Department of Parks and Recreation to bring wireless Internet access to 18 locations in 10 major city parks, including Central and Riverside Parks in Manhattan, Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Pelham Bay and Van Cortlandt Parks in the Bronx.

Asked why no Staten Island parks were included, Mr. Bloomberg said: "The parks on Staten Island tend to be very small, and that's much harder to provide Wi-Fi to. So the first thing we're going to do is do the big parks, and then we'll take a look at the others. And we have actually started to do a study as to what it would take to do long, thin parks or very small parks, finding an economic way to do that."

Consultants' proposals for conducting the broadband feasibility study are due on July 21. The first goal would be to assess "the existing state of broadband services" and decide whether a citywide network — or a more limited network — is needed. If the answer is yes, the Economic Development Corporation could have the consultant stay on to develop an economic and technological approach for the project.

The request for proposals noted that "broadband availability is already high" in many neighborhoods, but also asked whether wireless access could be made widely available "at competitive prices" and whether a network could strengthen the local economy.

In August 2004, a plan announced by Mayor John F. Street of Philadelphia to blanket the city's 135 square miles with broadband signals attracted national attention. A nonprofit organization created to oversee the project, Wireless Philadelphia, signed a contract in March with EarthLink, an Internet service provider based in Atlanta, to install transmittal devices on about 4,000 streetlights and create 22 free "hot spots" around the city.

Other cities have followed suit. In April 2005, the city of Tempe, Ariz., hired the MobilePro Corporation of Bethesda, Md., to build a wireless network covering the city's 40 square miles. Last April, San Francisco selected EarthLink and Google to provide free or low-cost wireless Internet access across the city's 47 square miles. Last week, EarthLink opened a Wi-Fi network covering the central area of Anaheim, Calif. All of the city's 50 square miles are to be covered by the end of the year.

Dana Spiegel, executive director of NYC Wireless, a local nonprofit group that has been hired by several business improvement districts and companies to set up wireless networks in public spaces, cautioned that the other cities might not be the right model for New York City to follow. "We're a much bigger city and have a much more complicated set of connectivity problems," he said. "It's unclear that municipal broadband at a citywide level is the solution for New York City."

article originally published at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/07/nyregion/07wifi.html?_r=1&oref=slogin.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey