Tuesday, September 11, 2007

NYC Broadband Advisory Committee August 6, 2007, Meeting

The following are notes from the August 6, 2007 NYC Broadband Advisory Committee Meeting courtesy of Mr. Joshua Breitbart, Policy Director of People's Production House.

Committee members in attendance:
Anthony Townsend
Stand-in for Tom Dunne (Verizon representative)
Shaun Belle
Elisabeth Stock
Wendy Lader
David Birdsell
Andrew Rasiej
Mitch Ahlbaum
Howard Szarfarc
Avi Dandevani
Jose Rodriguez

Audience members:
Council Member Gale Brewer
Brewer's Chief of Staff Bruce Lai
Jeffrey Baker, Counsel to the Committee on Technology in Government
Diamond Consultants
and me, Joshua Breitbart

Ted Brodheim, the recently-hired Chief Information Officer for the NYC Department of Education. (4 months on the job)

Summary notes of Mr. Brodheim’s testimony
The challenge is that any DOE program utilizing broadband in the home needs to be implemented equitably. Dept. of Education is not implementing programs now due to imbalance in home broadband access.

Schools are no longer geographically specific. Neighborhood-based schools allowed for after-school interaction. “The web offers the possibility to bring that collaboration back into the educational process.”

If broadband inequity were removed tomorrow, it would be “all about collaboration tools for students.” It would enable teachers to put up research, content, and supplemental materials on the web allowing students to add pieces to it.

In his opinion, the barrier to Internet access is the cost of the service. There needs to be a no- or low-cost way to provide broadband access. If it can’t be universal, then it should at least serve an entire grade level (probably high elementary or middle school).

He is trying to track down the amount the Dept. of Ed. spends on ICT. Off of the top of his head, he’d guess it’s 5-700 million, including telecom costs (phone, blackberries).

The Internet has "tremendous potential to unlock what happens in the classroom and extend it out into the homes and the community."

Question: What affect does access have on student performance?
Efficiency, or productivity in the classroom, not studied much, but unquestionably higher. Students and teachers become way more efficient in the classroom. There's a high impact on student achievement. This fall, the DOE is giving 6000 teachers (out of 90,000) laptops and broadband access as a pilot project to seed the idea of using technology along these lines.

Schools are only open 15% of the time, so there is idle bandwidth, which could, as Anthony Townsend put it, "make schools as an oasis for broadband." But there are restrictions from e-rate federal funding. Can't open e-rate to public or use it to wire administrative offices. Reimbursement rates are at 95%, so it's a hard argument to shift to another funding source

Question: Textbooks are expensive, so could there be a provision for savings on textbooks for utilizing broadband?
Answer: No answer available.

Question: Are the teachers ready to implement Internet into their curriculum?
Answer: Some are ready now and some would get ready. But, some won't get ready. However, They want to do the right thing, as long as we give them what they need.

DOE has a network of 95 miles of heavy fiber, several hundred miles of spurs, and hundreds of thousands of nodes. It receives about 100,000 denial-of-service (DOS) attacks every day. They are trying to balance the protection of the integrity of the network and recognizing that we don't know where the next best idea will come from. They're also working on tools to allow schools to share info, like through wikis, where they write about what works and what doesn't, to help them get over the learning curve. It has to be done in the context of protecting the integrity of the network.

"You name the model, we've got it." With support from Microsoft, Cisco, and others, New York is "a virtual national lab of schools of the future."

He's looking to package tech options - using tech support models, etc. Schools know their problems, but not necessarily the solutions. They're looking to better leverage resources they now have. He's looking for a couple of base models for k-5, middle school, high school, to give an idea of what schools should look like from a technological standpoint. DOE is developing school profiles, groups of 30-100 schools, with school support organizations to target solutions at those common schools. They are trying to do that with software, etc.

There's a new system - ARIS - (achievement reporting system) to make reporting available to teachers and principals this year and parents next year. Currently reports are mailed home, but these reports will be more frequently updated and have more information. But that doesn't address inequity in terms of parents without Internet access.

DOE has not done hard statistics on the inequity, but in the future they may include broadband questions in new surveys.

Some schools have assumptions that everyone has access, while others assume that no one has access. Schools try to keep computer labs open after hours.

Students limited in ability to research colleges and prepare themselves for going through the application process, even if it hasn't necessarily limited the actual submission of applications. Need to improve tools around searching, searching for scholarships, etc.

Currently talking with Secretary of Ed. Spelling and the FCC to re-interpret e-rate rules. They are too much about laying physical cable, and not allowing for a move into the next generation of technology, specifically, collaborative tools, and maintenance. E-rate can't be spent on upgrades for 6 years even though the hardware becomes outdated in 3 years. Also, they only allow you to buy things. There's no training on any of the ways to make the things useful.

Distance learning: DOE hasn't done much on it, but if they did it would address students missing school and collaboration with school districts outside of the city.

Question: How much tech is in the curriculum? How is it integrated?
Answer: It's been left to each school to decide, so I can't answer. There's no clear model. Schools that are doing a good job have figured it out on their own – the good and bad. Now we're looking to identify what's working well, package it, and move it into other locations. It's up to principals, so it's possible for students to go through school without using, although I would be surprised if that is that were the case.

Question from Mitch Ahlbaum (DOITT): The first step, before talking about computers at home, is to make sure they are actually being used in the schools.

Answer: There are 400,000 high school students. Ratio of 4:1 (students to student-available computers); not 100% of those computers are connected to the Internet. It's close to 90% but it's not evenly distributed across schools. Every school outside of District 75 (special education) has some access.

Question from Elisabeth Stock, Computers For Youth: How is your office connected to the instructional side? How can you do that as best as possible?

Answer: We're working quite closely now, though that had not been the case in the past.

There are 1500 schools and we now understand the need for flexibility across those schools

We work with a number of nonprofit organizations, and received a modest grant from Gates to form more of those partnerships. There's no hard demographic data on access to these programs and we don't actively seek such grants, just had a chance at this one grant

Question from Andrew Rasiej: Will the market solve the problems or should government intervene?
Answer: "Market forces will not address this on their own."


Other matters:

David Birdsell: There have been consistent themes in the Bronx and Brooklyn: What people want to do but can’t do, including content creation, video content, community web-based development. They can't do it because affordable broadband is not available. Let's take themes and get data beyond the anecdotal level.
There's a lack of awareness of opportunities from people who aren't functioning within a broadband environment. There's a lack of imagination impressed by a tendency to define broadband in terms of what we have today (768k, 1.5mb - not the 20mb or 50mb rates we might dream about) - "We should be thinking about what might be rather than getting people on board with what we have today."

There's a plan to do 3 more hearings this year - In September, October, and a report due at the end of the year. The Committee will be working out those dates in the next couple of weeks

Shaun Belle: Ongoing theme - there's no master plan, yet the ability to deliver the platform is there, there's just not a lot of emphasis around it. No one is thinking about the issue outside of their own agency or outside of the school

We're looking for real data. What are we looking to present at the end of the day?

Wendy Lader: On the timing of report: City Hall asked for more info, so the report is still in the works. We will present an overview to Committee members before it is prepared for release.
On the surveys - over 1000 responses to the NYCHA survey from 6700 selected.
2000 responses to paper surveys in 58 libraries.
We need a few more months.

Anthony Townsend: On underutilized infrastructure from schools, libraries, public safety
"What can we do to get extra value out of what the City is already investing in?"
There is redundant infrastructure that is all underutilized, including a proposed $500 million network for NYPD and municipal agencies.
Andrew Rasiej: That $500 million could be leveraged
Gale Brewer agrees and would appreciate help making that happen.

Andrew Rasiej: We should be working on some potential recommendations.

David Birdsell – Our task has three parts:
1. Describe situation on the ground
2. Describe the world we would like to see exist - what to aspire to? Bandwidth, cost
3. How to get there?
We should be looking at other cities' ability to roll out affordable 20mb broadband.

Andrew Rasiej: Who can provide us with information to compare NYC to other cities in the US and internationally? Let's have a chat with Diamond so we at least know what they’re presenting.

Wendy Lader: Maybe it will be a month, or a month and a half to get an overview.

The contract between EDC and Diamond Consultants is funded through an IDA grant.

Andrew Rasiej: What can we do to make sure that our recommendations get done?

Shaun Belle: What commitment do we have from the Mayor to act?

Gale Brewer: The Council doesn't know what to do. We could devote funding, but how do you sustain and maintain a public-private partnership? An initiative is more likely than big change in policy.

Elisabeth Stock: Should we address duopoly?
Franchise is up in 2008. Mitch Ahlbaum (DOITT) is knowledgeable on that.

Elisabeth Stock: What money available from the state, that new $5 million?
Brewer’s office will look into it.


Joshua Breitbart, Policy Director
People's Production House
265 Canal Street, suite 410
New York, NY 10013

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