To Be on Top, NYC Needs to Expand Broadband

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New York City has aspirations to become the No. 1 technology hub in the country. But if the city wants to edge out Silicon Valley as the home of tech sector start-ups, it needs to boost the bandwidth of a limited resource — its broadband.

“This is something that will affect our competitiveness, regardless of the industry,” said Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. He added that “the technology industry and technology in general is critical to the future of New York City.”

Pinsky said the city needs to work on getting broadband infrastructure into individual buildings, wiring every neighborhood in the city, and making sure that broadband access is available to low and middle income residents.

To address these issues — as well as the speed and reliability concerns long bemoaned within the city’s growing cadre of tech entrepreneurs — Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office announced a series of initiatives Thursday, such as giving office buildings grades based on their connectivity and hosting a competition for businesses to get their buildings wired based on need. The administration also wants to ease the regulatory process for internet service providers and spur the development of apps to serve people who have mobile phones, but limited computer access.

The state of the city’s broadband infrastructure was cited as a top concern in a recent report about New York’s technology industry by the Center for an Urban Future, behind only the ability to secure engineering and development talent.

“I would probably estimate half of the companies I know have internet access problems in New York City,” said Chris Dixon, an investor in numerous technology companies and the co-founder of Hunch, a recommendation technology company acquired by Ebay late last year. “It’s now become the very first thing you look for in office space as a start-up. It’s based on whether you’ve got good internet.”

Strong, reliable internet is more important than electricity, said Aaron Harris, CEO of Tutorspree, a New York-based website that pairs students with tutors.

In fact, when the internet at his company went down a few months ago, all work ceased.

“Everyone in the room just sort of stood up and threw their hands in the air and thought, well now what?” said Harris.

Jim Colgan contributed reporting.