Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Joshua Breitbart
Policy Director for People's Production House (PPH)

Good morning. My name is Joshua Breitbart. I am the Policy Director for People’s Production House (PPH). PPH trains middle and high school students in public schools and low-wage and immigrant workers from across the city to be radio journalists. That includes analyzing how the media works and learning how to change it.

I would like to thank you, the members of the Broadband Advisory Committee, for holding this public hearing. I would also like to thank Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Bronx Community College, and the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation for hosting this event, and Council Member Gale Brewer for her work initiating this process.

PPH and its partners have a stake in this discussion because the Internet is the most promising outlet to distribute the kind of immediate, hyper-local content our partners produce. Licensed space on the radio dial is limited, especially in this town. Television also has a high barrier to entry. Newspapers are more open, but they aren’t so good for audio recordings.

The Internet is an accessible, two-way, multi-format medium. At least it could be accessible, which is why I say it’s “promising.” A lot of the people we work with don’t have the kind of meaningful access to the Internet that would allow them to make and distribute their own content and to receive the content of their peers. We would like you to help us do something about that.

I don’t know as much about broadband in New York City as you all do, but in some circles I am considered a knowledgeable person about these issues. I write for a think tank and an industry publication. I’ve testified before a city council, spoken to the media, and given presentations at conferences. I am a principal in a small consultancy. But I’m not going to tell you what I think meaningful broadband infrastructure looks like for New York City.

The most important thing I’ve learned about municipal broadband as I’ve observed and analyzed the processes in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Boston, and elsewhere is that there is no cookie-cutter solution, no easy answer. The critical thing to finding the right solution is having the right process of working towards that solution.

Here are the keys, as I’ve come to understand them, to a healthy process, one that minimizes conflicts and leads to solid results:

• Sustain open participation beyond the initial public hearing stage, through the entire process and continuing even a solution is implemented.

• Promote horizontal relationships among stakeholders rather than hub-and-spoke relationships that all connect to this committee or to any one person or organization.

• Unite stakeholders around shared technology rather than dividing them into tiers.

• Incorporate existing human resources wherever possible to avoid redundancy and to build on existing relationships.

• Be open with whatever information you gather: publish documents, test results, and regular updates on an accessible website and make them readily available to people without Internet access.

The fact is, the people that have the most at stake in this discussion are not folks like me, white dudes with laptops and DSL connections at home. It’s the folks who have no access, or very limited access to the Internet. People’s Production House has a corps of eager reporters ready to work with you to engage that constituency.

This hearing is a great first step in that direction. It’s the first time that I know of that the general public of New York City has been invited to dream about what broadband might look like in our city. I am excited to see where this takes us.

In closing, again, I would like to thank all of the members of this Committee for your time and energy and for your commitment to New York’s communications future.