Updated: Dec 9, 2019
According to a report by Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, 29 percent of households in New York City lack broadband internet access. In 2019, in one of the richest cities in the world, that number seems unfathomable. The reality, however, is that nationwide we pay more money for broadband than almost any other developed nation, and we pay for worse service. Most New Yorkers I know, when faced with the issue of slow internet speeds and ever increasing prices, simply toss their hands up in the air. After all, what other option do we have?
As of 2018, there were 55 municipal broadband networks serving 108 communities with a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home internet network, according to a report in Vice. Earlier this year, an op-ed in the New York Daily News made a compelling case for municipal broadband service right here in New York City. Essentially, state and local government would fund the construction of a high speed broadband network, which would then be administered by a public agency.
According to that same Vice report, “a recent study by Harvard University researchers indicated that community broadband networks tend to offer notably lower pricing than their private-sector counterparts. The study also found that community broadband network pricing tends to be more transparent and less intentionally confusing than offers from incumbent ISPs.”
Accessible high-speed internet isn’t just about watching movies or streaming music online. Government agencies could more easily broadcast important hearings for people at home to watch, and could provide a constant stream of information for New Yorkers, especially during an emergency. Our public libraries would be able to better assist New Yorkers in receiving the assistance they need. Accessible, high-speed internet would make it easier to telecommute, and could revolutionize medical care in the city.
Economically, it’s a no brainer. Companies want to invest in cities with high-speed internet, as evidenced by the boom being experienced in Chattanooga, TN, which established its own municipal broadband system back in 2013. Not only is Chattanooga able to provide its citizens with incredibly high internet speeds, plus TV service, for a low monthly fee, but it has created some much needed competition in the broadband market, which lowers prices for everyone.
To be clear, creating a municipal broadband system in New York City will not be easy. For starters, telecom companies have been fighting these new initiatives, spending over $92 million in 2018 alone on lobbying efforts to protect their business interests. It will require a real commitment to building the infrastructure necessary to provide the service, and the will to stand up to powerful opponents, who benefit from the status quo. But our city has done big, bold things before, and we can do it again. Municipal broadband is an idea whose time has come. Now we just need the bold vision and political courage to make it a reality.