New York City has released a new broadband audit that looks at access across all five boroughs and not much of it was positive. According to the report, nearly one-third of New York City households lack a home broadband subscription. There are also pronounced inequities in broadband subscribership among income groups, with more than half (56%) of New York City’s lowest-income households lacking a home broadband subscription.
Large sections of New York City also lack access to gigabit broadband service – an issue that impacts local small businesses significantly – nearly half of New York City small businesses do not have access to gigabit-speed service.
The report also highlights the severe lack of competition among broadband providers in the city. More than two thirds (69%) of households and nearly three quarters (72%) of small businesses have only 1 or 2 choices of broadband providers. 14% of small businesses have no choice of commercial fiber provider.
While this is the first comprehensive broadband access report the city has done, it’s not the first service audit. The city has been involved in a years-long battle with Verizon over a FIOS service contract that hasn’t lived up to the hype. City officials looked at Verizon’s boxes in 2015 and found that several installations reported as complete had no service. There have also been several revenue discrepancies between the city and the company.
As CivSource previously reported, Verizon staff also admitted to city officials that they did not record or track inquiries from prospective customers who requested service before fall 2014. According to the city, this is in direct violation of the franchise agreement, which requires Verizon to track requests for cable service. Many service requests had been outstanding for at least a year the city says. Verizon for its part, contends that it has filed the necessary agreement extensions and is fulfilling its end of the deal. Verizon also blames landlords for not providing consistent access to buildings.
Mayors in other cities have also reported similar issues with Verizon, but the lack of service and competition isn’t only in areas where Verizon is a large player. Similar accusations have been lobbed at AT&T, CenturyLink and Comcast when any of them come to dominate a market. In its report, New York City officials said that one of the drivers of this report was the lack of reliable broadband access data from the FCC. FCC maps are often hard to use and out of date. As DSL Reports has noted, AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast and Verizon have all lobbied against improving coverage maps as doing so would highlight the lack of competition nationwide.
Local governments have started to push for more control over broadband deployment, but they often run into a wall of pre-emptive laws at the state level and a significant national lobbying influence. The interests of private providers have only been bolstered during FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s tenure – two mayors have already left the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee citing a strong bias toward private industry over the public interest.