Expert Roundtable: Technology and Telecommunications

Written by City & State on . Posted in Technology.

Rahul Merchant
New York City’s Citywide Chief Information and Innovation Officer

Q: What role is your office playing in making sure New York City is prepared for future storms?
RM: As part of Mayor Bloomberg’s comprehensive plan for rebuilding and resiliency, DoITT [Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications] will look to establish the city’s new Planning and Resiliency Office (PRO) to foster more strategic communications with telecommunications providers,and to provide additional monitoring of their efforts to modernize and improve the resiliency of their systems. The genesis of PRO can be found in our testimony before the FCC earlier this year, during its hearings on [Superstorm] Sandy communications. Among the recommendations we made were: multiple and affordable communications options (especially as older copper wire gets replaced with fiber optics); better resiliency and backup power; and better information sharing on outages. Historically one of the challenges has been that while various consumer services—like phone, Internet, and cable television—are increasingly provided over the same physical infrastructure, oversight of these services is decentralized across the local, state and even federal government. We think PRO can help navigate this regulatory thicket and result in a stronger relationship between the city
and the providers—and in better service delivery to the public.

Q: Your office recently announced that it will hold a hearing on “micro-trenching,” a technique for installing fiber-optic cable. What are the pros and cons of this technique?
RM: With the Department of Transportation, we authorized the piloting of the micro-trenching process in the wake of Sandy late last year, and it’s now being run at more than a dozen locations across the five boroughs. It entails Verizon installing small conduits within the edges of city sidewalks to house fiber-optic cabling, which can be used to deliver voice, Internet and cable television service. The excess capacity of these conduits is made available for use by other communications industry providers—as well as by city agencies—at no cost. It’s an exciting initiative that we think can revolutionize fiber deployment across the city—minimizing traffic and environmental impacts as well as reducing the costs associated with the more traditional ways of digging up, or “trenching,” the city’s streets. We’ve seen less debris produced compared to traditional installation methods, no reduced performance of the fiber cabling and zero street closures. All of this increases the speed to market and lowers cost of entry into new neighborhoods for companies looking to expand broadband infrastructure. Based on this success, we’re moving to formalize the microtrenching process from the pilot phase to an established alternative to conventional trenching. I invite everyone to review the draft rules we published in The City Record and to share their thoughts with the city at its public hearing on August 6.

Fernando Cabrera
Chair, New York City Council Technology Committee

Q: The city’s 911 call system has drawn complaints and criticism for delays and glitches. What is the problem? Is enough being done to fix it?
FC: The 9-1-1 system went through a review process resulting in recommendations which included the development of a new computer dispatch system known as Intergraph Computer Aided Dispatch. Since the new system was put in place last May there [have] been reports indicating that the system doesn’t work properly, causing screens to go blank, computers to begin buffering or NYPD computers to become disconnected from the Emergency Medical Service dispatchers, causing no calls to arrive from precincts. All these issues resulted in delays in emergency response times and have cost at least four lives. Chair [Elizabeth] Crowley, City Council members and myself are recommending an independent investigation and proposing legislation to report and track response times in order to improve the emergency call process.

Q: Your committee held a meeting earlier this year on having all public meetings be webcast. What is the status of that effort? Are all City Council meetings online? Are other public meetings streamed online as well?
FC: There have been efforts to make the city government more transparent. Over a year ago the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), in collaboration with the City Council, began the live broadcast and streaming of public hearings and stated meetings. Ninety-eight percent of past hearings can be found as archives on the Council’s website at In regard to the bill that will require all public meetings to be webcast, we will move forward with the legislation once MOME provides us with the cost analysis study, as discussed at the hearing, detailing what is needed in terms of operations, infrastructure and equipment.

Q: Is the city doing enough to use technology to fight crime?
FC: The mayor needs to add Argus cameras in the outer boroughs. He added many cameras to many areas of Manhattan, but for the most part the outer boroughs often rely on the limited capital funding of Council members. Crime is reduced 60 percent in areas covered by police cameras. It is one of the most effective ways to combat crime. In the last four years I have allocated more funding in this area than any other Council member and have seen the immediate positive results firsthand. But much more is needed from the mayor’s office to have an equitable strategy to fight off crime in all boroughs. I sponsored the recently enacted crime-mapping website legislation in order to use technology to fight crime. The site will display the number of complaints that have been filed with the NYPD. The data can be analyzed to strategize efforts against violence.

Kevin Parker
Ranking Member, New York State Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee

Q: Was any key telecommunications legislation passed this year?
KP: There were several important telecommunications bills this year, but unfortunately there was very little that is likely to become law.One bill that I believe will become law soon is S.4442A, which allows victims of domestic violence to get an anonymous or pseudonymous directory listing without charge, if they have received a temporary order of protection in the context of a domestic violence case. By requiring such a service within 15 days of application, we are empowering victims of domestic violence who need to retain access to telephone services but don’t want that fact to lead their batterer back to them. I had also hoped that my bill S.5033 would pass both houses and be signed into law. That bill helps victims of domestic violence who have signed up for a “triple play” or “bundle” contract to save money to cancel those cable/telephone contracts without penalty so that they are not penalized when escaping their batterer. The innovative thing about these bills is that we have been able to leverage the power of advanced telecommunications to help victims of domestic violence become safer.

Q: Did you support Sen. George Maziarz’s legislation to require phone companies to have call centers in New York?
KP: Like my colleagues, I support legislation that retains jobs in New York or creates new employment in the state. To focus upon a few of the bills I worked with Sen. Maziarz upon that have a great deal of potential for job creation and retention, there is the rural broadband act, S.5481, and several innovative bills in the area where technology meets alternative energy. All of this legislation is an opportunity for Maziarz and I to help the state reduce its carbon footprint while creating and retaining jobs, and I have little doubt we will continue to work together on these topics as closely and effectively as we have to this point, with the same positive results.

Q: Our special section also focuses on technology, which could be boosted by the governor’s “Start-Up NY” initiative. Is this program a good idea?
KP: Like many potentially innovative ideas, the “Start-Up NY” initiative is neither good nor bad at this point. The proof will be in how it is implemented, and whether the results (verifiable by objective metrics) are a [source] of new jobs, new industries being created in or lured to New York, and a general improvement of New York’s economy, neighborhoods and upstate and downstate communities. To the extent that it facilitates the “Hot Spot” program and interacts well with the venture capital fund and “green bank,” it could be transformational for New York’s economy, which is something every legislator can applaud.


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