Community Boards and The Internet
Two-thirds of all New Yorkers are said to be online. But many of them can only access the Internet from work, a library, a school, or a community technology center. Many technology experts believe that the efforts to cross the digital divide should include getting more computers in private homes.
Perhaps it is ironic that if this happens, -- if more New Yorkers can stay at home and still get online -- more will become active participants in their communities.
That, anyway, is the hope of the members of New York's community planning boards, and they are preparing for it. About ten out of 59 community boards have web sites, and one group is reaching out to the rest. It is called the Prototype Community Board Website Development Project, and its aim is to improve the ability of under-funded and short-staffed community boards to communicate with each other and with their communities. The program is currently supported by new Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) Commissioner Gino Menchini.
The Battle for .NYC
Community Board leaders are trying to build support for the .NYC (pronounced dot NYC) Campaign, an effort to secure the top-level domain name .nyc for New York City. In April 2001, Community Board 3 in Queens passed an Internet Empowerment Resolution that has recently gotten the support of Queens Congressman Joseph Crowley. Now, the challenge is to convince the three NYC Congressmen that serve on the House Commerce Committee -- Representatives Ed Towns (10th), Eliot Engel (17th) and Vito Fossella (13th)--of the importance of the .NYC Campaign.
Currently, organizations in New York City use generic domain names like .com, .edu, .gov and .org to identify their presence on the Web. However, .nyc would allow citizens to find local organizations more easily on the Internet and bring local control to the communications network. For example, if managed by city government, the .nyc domain name would raise much needed revenue for the city by registering domain names categories such as schools.nyc, libraries.nyc, government.nyc or shopping.nyc. The domain could also be managed by a local private sector or third-party organization. In addition, the .nyc domain name could help to build a powerful brand on the Internet for the New York. Currently, Los Angeles has secured the .la domain name that was originally issued to the country Laos.
The international domain name system is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit, private-sector corporation. Recently, ICANN has been criticized for being slow and inefficient and lacking transparency and is currently trying to reform. Thus, the organization has issued far fewer domain names than expected this year. New York City can assert its influence in the organization primarily through the United States Department of Commerce. Therefore, if community boards are serious about the battle for .nyc, they will need to raise awareness among communities and congressmen in the 10th, 17th and 13th districts.
Pay Phone Update
On March 11th, Verizon raised pay phone rates to 50 cents for an unlimited local call up from 25 cents for a three-minute call. This is the first rate increase since 1984 and New York was the last state to increase prices. In 1996, most states increased pay phone prices to 35 cents as a result of deregulation in the phone industry and recently all have adopted the 50-cent rate. Verizon cites competition from new communications technology such as cell phones as the primary reason for increasing the price of calls on its 110,000 pay phones. While Verizon is committed to keeping pay phones in communities where they are needed, the 50-cent rate may prevent the poor from using the phones. An additional 50 cents will be charged for directory assistance from pay phones.
Cable TV Update
Cable television subscriptions are up three percent as a result of the destruction of the antenna on the north tower of the WTC. Currently, about 21 percent of households get television over the airwaves rather than through cable. As a result, over the next five years New York City will pocket $51 million in franchise fees from cable companies. This will help aiding in the city's recovery from the budget crisis. For every $10 per month a cable customer pays, 50 cents goes to the city in franchise fees.
Cable Internet Access Update
The FCC recently exempted cable companies from having to allow Internet service providers (ISPs) access to their lines. According to the Federal Communications Commission, this step was necessary to promote investment and growth in high-speed Internet access. However, this move contradicts the FTC conditions of the AOL Time Warner merger that required the company to open its lines to other ISPs in order to increase competition in the cable market. This highlights an important difference between the telecommunications and cable markets. Historically, telecom has been widely regulated while cable has not. This may mean less choice of ISPs for consumers in New York.
Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.