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NYC to bypass muni Wi-Fi

City to seek millions from cable, phone companies for fiber or wired networks to provide Net access to underserved groups

July 29, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - New York City wants to provide faster and cheaper Internet access, especially to its low-income residents, without going the route of municipal Wi-Fi that has proved to be the bane of so many U.S. cities.

Instead, a multimillion-dollar technology fund financed by cable and communications companies could be used to provide affordable fiber-optic cable connections to homes, especially the 400,000 residents of public housing, an aide to New York City Council member Gale Brewer said today.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other members of the city's 15-member Broadband Advisory Committee will be hearing the recommendations of a private consultancy, Diamond Management & Technology Consultants Inc., at a briefing tomorrow, said Kunal Malhotra, a Brewer spokesman.

While the consultant may offer a concrete plan for broadband in the city, Malhotra said it is already clear to the advisory committee that wireless networks won't be used. "We're not going to go the direction of a Minneapolis or Philadelphia in New York," Malhotra said in a telephone interview today. "We don't think municipal Wi-Fi will succeed."

Instead, New York may try to expand on a technology fund that already includes $4 million from Verizon Communications, which is building a fiber-optic network in the city subject to the stipulation that it must set aside the money for providing Internet access to underserved neighborhoods, Malhotra said. The fund could be expanded with $4 million each from the city's two cable providers, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, he said. "That would be an instant $8 million," Malhotra said.

Malhotra said Brewer and others believe that all of New York's 8 million residents need cheaper Internet access, but there is growing attention to the needs of lower income residents. The city's approach to addressing the Digital Divide isn't as concerned with the type of access technology -- wired or wireless -- as it is with the need to provide low-income residents with computers and Internet access, and with computer training necessary to develop job skills, he said.

Officials in the mayor's office could not be reached to comment in advance of the Wednesday briefing.

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