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'Net Insider


A not-all-powerful plan of action


By Scott Bradner, Network World, 05/23/05

Scott Bradner


The powers that be in New York City have concluded that telecom networks are at least as important to the economic vitality of the city as the subways, roads and airports. They also concluded that something needs to be done to improve the current network infrastructure and that the city needs to help.


The powers that be in this case are the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and the New York City Department of Small Business Services. With great fanfare, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced that these groups have developed a "plan of action."


The plan concludes that parts of the city are in quite good shape telecom networks-wise, though most of the city needs help. But this plan includes far less governmental action than what has been proposed or is under development in other places around the country.


The plan also might be less likely to provoke the same kinds of armies of telco lobbyists that are so successful at getting state legislatures to tell local governments that they cannot do what they feel is best for their citizens.


A few months ago I wrote about the actions of one of these state legislatures (A warning about future telecom 'reform'?) and about the Utopia project, an example of the kind of effort the actions have tried to stop.


The New York proposal does not involve all that much direct network building. The proposal is to run fiber to support some nonprofit efforts and to install some redundant fiber to important public and private sites in lower Manhattan. The plan also is to install conduits for carriers to use as they repair streets. The only effort the city groups propose that might be called network construction is a rooftop wireless back-up network to improve the reliability of network service in lower Manhattan.


The city groups propose to use some federal development funds to pay for these and a few other initiatives. They also propose urging that network connections to office buildings be made more reliable.


All in all, this is a quite modest proposal. It relies more on encouraging the private sector to do the right thing than building it themselves. In New York this seems realistic. It's not clear that the same sort of plan would work all that well in a place that does not have a current base of technology-intensive companies as strong as New York's. This is why the trend of state legislatures genuflecting in the direction of local telephone companies is such a problem.


Limiting the ability of municipalities to install their own wireless or fiber infrastructures, if they come to the conclusion that it would be better for their own economic vitality, puts states and municipalities at an economic disadvantage. Maybe the local monopoly telephone company will step up to the task in a reasonable time period and offer service at a reasonable price. Then again, maybe pigs will soon fly.


Disclaimer: I expect that the aerodynamic theoreticians at Harvard would say that pigs can't fly (unless dropped), but I did not ask about that or municipal networks.


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