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New York City Broadband RFI Generates Strong Response

About a month remains before responses to New York City's Request for Information are due, part of the city's quest to deploy affordable, equitable, gigabit-speed broadband citywide.

About four weeks remain until responses to New York City’s Request for Information (RFI) are due, an early step in its quest to roll out equitable, affordable, gigabit-speed broadband to more than 8.5 million people across more than 300 square miles.

It’s not yet clear how far into 2018 New York City will push to stand up citywide broadband. But responses to the RFI, issued last month from the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, must be submitted on or before Jan. 19 — and interest, so far, is high.

Officials seek to identify “potential strategies and partnerships” leveraging “the best of public and private sources” to expand the availability and affordability of Internet as well as “maximize the benefits of competition,” according to the document.

The city, it said in the RFI, wants to know how public-private “cooperation” can resolve the challenges inherent in such a deployment.

It also calls on respondents to explain how their ideas would create 100,000 “good-paying jobs” for New Yorkers during the next decade; award at least 30 percent of the dollar amount of contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses by 2021; and meet Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal of rolling out the service everywhere by 2025.

New York City Chief Technology Officer Miguel Gamiño said digital equity is front and center in the mayor’s goal for the eventual rollout, to make theirs “the fairest big city in America.” New York City is, however, keeping a very open mind as to how gigabit-speed citywide broadband ultimately is deployed.

“The whole point of this step is to really, truly inspect the art of the possible. We are focused on the goal at hand, not necessarily predisposed to a particular method,” said Gamiño, who described the effort as “very serious and deeply focused” and “not to be misinterpreted as being whimsical about it.”

“The Internet is not just a business utility any more. It’s a human interaction venue in a lot of ways,” the CTO said.

“As we make progress in the digital landscape, as we make progress in other parts of our lives, whether that be in the classroom or in the workplace or other places, we need to make sure that all of those advances benefit everyone,” he added.

New York City will use the RFI responses to shape the “direction and form” of its broadband implementation, it said in the document, including “forthcoming Requests for Proposals,” though no timeframe was indicated for when the city might issue an RFP.

Five general principles guide the RFI: performance, affordability, choice, equity and privacy.

Their specific parameters will be informed by the responses along with other public processes, the CTO said in the RFI, indicating in an interview the agency is specific with goals — but, again, leaving the ways to achieve them to “the best creative thinkers that are experienced in this space.”

The city’s broadband mission expressed in “One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City,” also informs the RFI, especially in a series of five initiatives that include promoting competition and providing high-speed Internet to low-income communities now without service.

That plan also calls for embracing connectivity for the outer boroughs, increasing investment in broadband corridors to reach high-growth business districts with a focus on “outer-borough neighborhoods”; promoting a “seamless user experience” across public networks to create high-speed access through the boroughs; and “exploring innovative ways” to bring high-speed Internet to homes, businesses and the public.

Gamiño said he thinks “the obvious is true” — that Manhattan and Midtown “probably” have more service density, options and capacity than the outer boroughs — but residents in those two storied areas experience service problems as well.

So far, the CTO said, interest has been high, with nearly 150 visitors logged in to review the RFI, at last check.

“It’s indicative that we’ve accomplished the goal of a wider reach for the purpose of better, deeper and wider insights into how we might really accomplish this,” Gamiño said.

Among the city’s questions for respondents, it asks how they would balance deployment between fiber and wireless infrastructure; and between fixed and mobile wireless; whether those balances would change over time; and what wireless technologies and bands would be most effective.

The idea, Gamiño said, is something also touched on in a later question: ensuring not just resiliency in the face of future environmental or human threat — but that the city creates something lasting in terms of its ability to be updated and remain high-performing; that “we set this up to keep up.”

One detail not explicitly covered in the RFI is the potential cost to implement citywide, gigabit-speed broadband. The RFI asks respondents to describe how their potential participation in a collaboration with the city would address broadband’s affordability to residents, and how they would suggest New York City “support and enhance its affordability goals.”

But Gamiño said the process is still in its early stages, and more financial information will become known as it moves forward. “This is the exercise to begin to inform what those costs might be because that’s trigged by the technology and the innovation, the business models,” he said, noting that many elements ultimately will factor into the cost.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.