By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist
Municipalities around the world have been targeting broadband deployment, with varying degrees of success, as noted in our recent editorial, Intelligent Communities: A Smart Choice? The biggest U.S. city of all, New York, has committed extensive resources to make its broadband deployment a huge economic success, focusing on some traditional areas — government information, business support — and also some non-traditional areas.
Much of the program, dubbed NYC Digital, mirrors what many municipalities have already done. It includes deploying broadband access throughout the five boroughs to improve digital capabilities for industry, citizens, educational institutions, and city government itself. It also includes the traditional feature of giving citizens electronic access to government services — for example, permits, public records, and street cleaning schedules.
Some of the city’s efforts involve building on top of the broadband foundation in order to make its agencies interact more efficiently. For instance, it will be allowing shared calendars for improved scheduling of meetings involving multiple departments, and creating shared mailing lists for easier updates regarding breaking news and emergency developments.
The city has also partnered with AT&T to increase the availability of Wi-Fi internet access in public parks. Clearly, broadband service providers can deliver a variety of infrastructure assets to aid a city to meet their municipal connectivity and communication objectives.
Road Map for the Digital City
That’s all good, but some of NYC Digital’s proposals are downright intriguing, especially for a city in which almost 19 million people live in 6,720 square miles. These proposals aim to make living together more tenable:
Access to real-time city information. Citizens can get data such as bus and subway train arrival times and location of open parking spaces (assuming there are any).
Crowdsourcing. Citizens can upload information about public safety issues so that the ones with the most impact can be addressed the fastest.
Citizen feedback. The city is even allowing citizens to post feedback on public spaces, politicians, and other municipal responsibilities, giving them an opportunity to extend the stretch of municipal workers and identify places — roads, parks, and others — where work is necessary.
Its own domain name. Given the new capabilities deployed by ICANN, which administers Internet domain names, New York will get its own .nyc domain.
What does this infrastructure investment mean for New York City and other large cities?
For one thing, Digital NYC is a big step forward for a major city — a multi-pronged effort to use broadband and digital access devices to make city living easier. It’s a model that other cities can follow easily.
Interestingly, the report doesn’t specifically reference saving money. It does refer to anticipated efficiency, but it never describes the real payoff for a city as huge and complicated as New York: theoretically, the more it can get its millions of citizens to interact with it online, as opposed to over the phone or in person, the easier it will be for the city to provide services to those who must use the phone or appear at a facility in person.
NYC Digital gives the city the potential to offer more services, better services and perhaps deliver them faster than ever before. There’s a real chance that some of that citizen feedback will become increasingly positive.
If you’re interested in learning more about how cities are getting smarter about utilizing digital technology, then visit the Smart+Connected Communities Institute for details about the progressive efforts that are happening in various regions of the world.