Friday, December 07, 2007

NY Gov. Spitzer forms state broadband council; RFPs issued for research of nontraditional infrastructure

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced the state would issue RFPs today to begin the process of distributing $5 million in seed funds allocated in the Empire State's budget for competitive grants to research, design and implement accessible Internet for unserved and underserved areas of rural and urban New York. Spitzer also announced the formation of the New York State Council for Universal Broadband. The council will recommend "a comprehensive statewide strategy that charts a course towards affordable broadband access throughout the state" and "leverage existing resources, consider new ways to extend high-speed Internet access beyond traditional means and recommend approaches to increase digital literacy in underserved urban and rural communities."

“As we build an innovation economy we must make New York the most connected and technologically advanced place to live and do business in the world," said Spitzer said in a news release. "Internet access is no longer a luxury. We must implement a strategy that leads to every New Yorker having access to affordable, high-speed Internet so that they may take advantage of the economic, social and cultural opportunities it provides.”

When he was inaugurated in January, Spitzer set a goal of universal broadband access, starting by mapping out existing infrastructure and broadband black holes. The state Broadband Council will be charged with this task.

Spitzer said a lack of federal leadership to establish a national broadband policy requires his state take the initiative, which comes as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is to issue a report this month his Broadband Task Force has been developing over the past year. The report will make specific recommendations on "how California can take advantage of opportunities for and eliminate any related barriers to broadband access and adoption." Similar state-level initiatives are have been undertaken in several other states over the past two years.

A key element of Spitzer's strategy -- one likely to be embraced by Schwarzenegger's Broadband Task Force -- is public-private partnerships. "State government will not be the one constructing these networks, Spitzer emphasized. "Instead, state money will be used to leverage matching funds from the private and not-for-profit sectors. In the end, it is New York’s vibrant telecommunications sector—together with their tireless and invaluable workers—who will implement this vision in partnership with government."

It remains to be seen whether states can inject enough money into public-private broadband initiatives to spur telecom providers to build out their networks -- particularly when states such as California continue to deal with sizable budget deficits. And because the telcos and cable companies are publicly traded, short term earnings pressures make it difficult for them to undertake major projects to expand their broadband infrastructures.

States could be convinced to find ways to fund broadband initiatives if they believed the funding would have a multiplier effect by stimulating economic activity and generating tax revenues that could be used, for example, to service state bond debt.

An AT&T-funded California study released in November found the Golden State would gain 1.8 million jobs and $132 billion of new payroll over the next 10 years with a 3.8 percent increase in the utilization of DSL and cable broadband Internet services.

“There is a clear connection between investing in broadband technology and job growth,” said Dr. Kristin Van Gaasbeck, Assistant Professor of Economics at California State University, Sacramento and one of the authors of the report.

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