RPA Testimony at June 25, 2018 oversight hearing on the city’s cable television franchises

Dear City Council Members and the Honorable Councilman Peter Koo,

Regional Plan Association is an urban planning, research and advocacy organization that aims to improve the New York metropolitan region’s equity, health, sustainability, and economy. We recently released our Fourth Regional Plan, which contains a series of actions which taken together would make our region more equitable, healthy, prosperous and sustainable over the next generation. One of these recommendations is to expand affordable internet across the region.

No one questions the importance of fast, reliable high-speed internet. It is an essential part of accessing information, services, as well as employment and educational opportunities.  And it will only become more critical. We expect that more employment and educational opportunities will require internet access, and that other critical services, such as healthcare, will have increased virtual presence as well. Additionally many other infrastructure services such as energy and transportation will largely depend on internet access.

And yet accessing high speed, reliable and affordable internet services can be a challenge to many residents, business and institutions in New York City.  There are deep inequalities in who has access to wired internet - only 56% of households in NYC with incomes below $20,000 annually had a broadband connection (as the census defines it in) 2016, while 93% of households earning $75,000 did, according to the American Community Survey. Even residents and businesses that could afford to pay for faster internet service report finding it hard to gain access to such services in some locations.  And a 2014 study by the Open Technology Institute demonstrated that many of New York’s peer cities from Paris to London to San Francisco, offer far faster services at much lower prices. Unless we improve our internet access, we risk deepening inequality and hurting the city’s economic competitiveness.

The good news is that public sector has many tools to improve internet infrastructure. Internet service, while privately provided, uses the public rights of way.  Furthermore, any next generation internet technology (such as ‘5G’) will likely require further use of public assets. These are advantages that can be leveraged in the public interest. Now is the time for the public sector to take a leadership role in planning, investment and oversight of internet infrastructure.

For that reason Regional Plan Association commends the City Council for holding these important hearings on New York City’s cable television franchises. We recommend that any renewal of the city’s franchise agreements should be part of a comprehensive internet infrastructure strategy, which should include the following elements:

  • Ensure equitable access to fiber-optic based internet services for all residents, businesses and institutions, regardless of location.  Some options to consider include affordable pricing plans, community benefits agreements and conducting a community internet needs assessment.

  • Enable fair market access to the infrastructure itself for potential third party providers.  ‘Open access’ and ‘dig once’ policies can enable fair and efficient access to conduit and other infrastructure; sharing agreements and internet exchange points and updating building codes can help multiple providers offer services in multi-family buildings.

  • Include resiliency considerations into internet infrastructure planning.  This could include requirements for building in redundancies, making critical elements of the network self-sufficient and further investing in solutions such as community-run mesh networks.

We thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

 

Mandu Sen

Program Manager

Regional Plan Association