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NYC moves closer to broadband plan

New York City creates new independent committee to advise city council and mayor on promoting broadband.

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.

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

Today only 38 percent of the city's 8 million residents subscribe to 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 percent of New Yorkers have access to DSL service, and Time Warner Cable, the predominant cable provider, reports that 100 percent 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 nonprofit 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.

"The reports from the committee may find that we are already well served by DSL and cable," she said. "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.