NEW YORK CITY-In response to the boom in the city’s growing technology sector, city officials unveiled during an economic forum sponsored by the Association for a Better New York that it will roll out a series of initiatives designed to expand broadband connectivity throughout the five boroughs. The city will work in tandem with the commercial real estate industry to get hundreds of buildings wired, permitted and certified over the next two years to handle more digital services.

The initiatives – developed by the New York City Economic Development Corp. and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications – include a competition to build out fiber wiring for commercial and industrial buildings, a grading program for connectivity in New York City buildings, a crowd-sourced digital map highlighting wired buildings citywide, a streamlined process for broadband-related permitting and a competition to develop mobile applications to help residents access critical municipal services, according to a statement from the city.

In working to streamline the permitting process, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said removing impediments to business operation, such as the lack of access to broadband in commercial office buildings, will “ensure business owners can focus the bulk of their attention on running a successful business,” while Mayor Bloomberg said helping the industry get the resources it needs – whether that means more qualified engineers or broadband connections will help more than just the tech sector. “It will make sure more businesses and more New Yorkers can get connected,” he added.

The effort comes shortly after the Center for an Urban Future highlighted in a May 2012 report that inadequate broadband service was a key problem facing New York City’s effort to grow its tech sector. The study, funded by ABNY & AT&T New York, identified that city, which is now second to Silicon Valley in terms of technology jobs, faces challenges such as availability of commercial space and lack of middle-class housing to support the burgeoning workforce. 

Now, under the new initiative, the city will work to address other factors, such as “digital deserts” in underserved pockets in industrial and manufacturing neighborhoods and lack of connectivity in low-income communities. On the commercial real estate front, a program called WiredNYC will be run by Rudin Management, Jared Kushner and others to evaluate city broadband infrastructure and create transparency, giving businesses information about a building’s connectivity when choosing where to locate, and allowing landlords to market their buildings’ assets and compete for tenants, according to the city. During the two-year period, the program aims to catalogue and rank more than 300 commercial office buildings totaling more than 16 million square feet.

Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future and co-author of the “New Tech City” report, supported the city’s efforts. “New York has so much potential to continue growing it’s tech sector, but this is one of the clear barriers that needs to be addressed if the city is going to keep the momentum going,” he says, in a statement. “The Bloomberg administration has already done a lot to support tech startups. It deserves a lot of credit for taking on the bandwidth problem.”  

The city is also collaborating with businesses such as Time Warner Cable on partnership opportunities. Ken Fitzpatrick, president of Time Warner Cable Business Class of the East Region, tells GlobeSt.com in an e-mail: “We applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s new broadband initiatives and are pleased that our expanding fiber network will play such an important role in helping New York City attract business investments. Our fiber optic technology, with its high-bandwidth and superior internet speeds, is ideal for any established or emerging business that needs to be better connected to the world.”