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NYC mayor backs tech initiatives with big bucks

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio says he sees the tech industry as the great social equalizer. And he announces funding for new initiatives in broadband deployment and education.

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New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio announced funding to support his technology initiatives at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference on Monday. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

NEW YORK -- New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio wants to make sure all New Yorkers have access to high-speed Internet so that they are prepared to take advantage of the jobs that tech startups are creating in the city.

And he is putting his money where his mouth is.

The mayor announced Monday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference here that New York City will spend $70 million over 10 years to make broadband universally available to 8.5 million New Yorkers. The funding is for De Blasio's "OneNYC" initiative, a 10-year technology plan announced in April that the mayor hopes will help level the playing field in terms of economic opportunity among New York residents.

A key part of De Blasio's mayoral agenda is closing the income gap between rich and poor in New York City. He sees the technology industry and access to broadband as potential equalizers in this effort.

"The strength of this (technology) community is the ability to open opportunities to all New Yorkers," he said. "These are quality jobs you create that help define a middle class lifestyle. And we want to make sure every kind of New Yorker knows this is for them."

In April, De Blasio announced a 10-year technology plan that he hopes will chart the path for creating a more equitable New York. Part of his plan includes an educational initiative for high school and college students in New York to create a pipeline for the technology industry. Another important aspect of his plan focuses on providing affordable access to high-speed broadband.

Today, about 20 percent of New Yorkers lack access to broadband at home. That number is even higher -- 36 percent -- for low-income households. Nationally, about 17 percent of households do not have broadband, according to a recent report from the FCC.

De Blasio's answer to this problem is to take a multi-pronged approach that includes building Wi-Fi networks as well as working with broadband providers in the private sector to increase network speeds and coverage of existing networks. The bulk of the $70 million allocated to the plan will be used within the next few years to build these wireless networks that will provide low-income neighborhoods and industrial business zones with affordable broadband, according to a city official. The city is also considering building its own high-speed broadband network, the official said.

"This city can't be a place of inclusion if so many of our fellow New Yorkers don't have access to broadband," De Blasio said during his speech.

New York's effort to bring broadband to all residents comes as President Barack Obama backs efforts at the federal level to promote community-based broadband efforts. Earlier this year, he urged the Federal Communications Commission to use its authority to strike down state laws that prevent municipalities from building or expanding high-speed broadband networks. Chattanooga, Tenn., is a city that has been at the forefront of this effort. It has deployed fiber-based broadband network that offers download and upload speeds of 2 Gbps.

De Blasio also said he plans to allocate $29 million in next year's budget for science, technology, engineering and math programs at the City University of New York (CUNY) colleges. The funding will grow to $51 million in the following year, and the money will be geared toward preparing students at two-year community colleges for work in the technology sector.

"We love Cornell Tech," he said of the technology-focused graduate school that is located in New York. "But we need a broader approach, especially for young people. And CUNY is the perfect tool for realizing that."

Corrected at 8:25 p.m. PT: This story incorrectly described Mayor De Blasio's OneNYC plan. The 10-year plan calls for the construction of Wi-Fi networks as well as fixed or wired broadband services.