The New York City Council’s Committee on Technology and Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchising held a watchdog hearing on September 19 to question the Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI) on the current state of the internet master plan.

This plan was first published in January 2020 and aimed to bridge the digital divide; however, the effort was halted in May 2022 when Chief Technology Officer Matt Fraser told a committee hearing that the program was being re-evaluated.

Board Member Jennifer Gutiérrez, Chair of the Technology Committee, said Government technology that the only information council members have about the delay is what Fraser had already shared. One of the main factors at play is that OTI is a new office that has absorbed other agencies that previously operated independently. She also speculated that because the plan came out in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic could also have been a factor in its delay.


With federal broadband funding opportunities flowing to state and local governments, Gutiérrez said she hopes this focus will “increase the urgency” through which the city implements the plan.

“We just need to get an idea of ​​what happened,” she said. “Why was he deposed? What are the best practices ? What’s the timeline?”

THE HEARING

The focus of the hearing was heavily focused on the launch of a new program rather than concrete plans to move forward with the original internet master plan.

When OTI’s Executive Director of Franchise Administration, Brett Sikoff, was asked what was the primary reason for the pause in internet master plan implementation, he pointed to the need for further assessment. for ensure that there is no duplication of effort with other OTI initiatives.

Gutiérrez asked how much of the $157 million earmarked for the internet master plan was used to support the new Big Apple Connect program. Sikoff said that to his knowledge, none of those funds have been used for the new program.

Gutiérrez stressed the importance of the recent announcement that there will be no more snow days in the city as students can access school online. His worry is that if families aren’t properly equipped with the right devices and services, or don’t have the right skills to use these things, the digital divide for students will widen further. She recommended the creation of a website dedicated to informing the public about updates to the Internet Master Plan.

OTHER INITIATIVES

Big Apple Connect is the major initiative among those mentioned by Sikoff, which was officially announced the morning of the hearing. The program will make high-speed Internet and basic cable television available to people living in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments. The program was initially tested in eight developments and has now expanded to over 100.

The program was first launched as a pilot project in late summer 2022, has an expected duration of three years and costs approximately $30 million per year.

Big Apple Connect, in an effort to bring service to people as quickly as possible as a short-term solution, solicited tenders from three specific Internet service providers.

Some of the board members have expressed concerns about the impact of this method on competitive opportunities for small suppliers in the long term, and the committees have expressed concerns about the lack of Minority/Women Owned Business (MWBE) vendors invited to participate, which was a major component of the internet master plan.

Sikoff said the hope is that there will be several vendors to choose from over the next three years.

Other initiatives cited by Sikoff include the LinkNYC and LinkNYC 5G programs, which introduced public Wi-Fi kiosks throughout the city.

Gale Brewer, who represents the New York City Council’s 6th District, noted the program’s limitations, arguing that the service centered around the kiosk does not provide adequate space for residents to access the internet.

Specific information regarding federal broadband funding opportunities and how those dollars will be spent was not provided during this hearing.

Julia Edinger is an editor for Government technology. She holds a BA in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She is currently located in Southern California.

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