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Why Albany Matters in NYC Tech Policy

by Laura Forlano, Jul 01, 2002
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New York State has been ranked third among all "cyberstates" by the American Electronics Association, which considered home computer and Internet use, tech wages, research and development, and other factors. But that may say more about how poorly the other states are doing. The truth is, New York is way behind where it could be -- and where it needs to be.

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Yes, there are signs of life in the state's policies. Currently, there are almost 300 bills in the New York State Legislature dealing with technology, telecommunications, cable or energy. Look at the New York State bill search, and you will see bills to provide technology grants for schools, to assist new high-technology business start-ups, to create programs for the use of high-tech maps, to fund research and development, and to set energy policy.

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But there is much more that could be done.

Education

Few people in the know see technology as a replacement for teachers in the classroom; rather, they understand it as an aid to teachers. For example, information technology could be used to match teachers with schools to speed up the hiring process, and to assess the progress of individual students, or even to tutor students who are falling behind. Legislation has been proposed to increase funding for technology in the schools. Naomi Matusow, who is the chair of the Assembly Committee on Libraries and Information Technology, supports the creation of the New York Virtual Electronic Library -- NOVEL -- a "library without walls" for New Yorkers which would help to make accessible a whole range of information for students.

Home Computer and Internet Use

Despite New York State's high ranking as a cyberstate, less than 55 percent of the population logs on from home, which places the state 33rd in home computer and Internet use in relation to other states. New York's poor areas are especially lagging.

The issue is not that everyone should have Internet access from their homes. Rather, community technology centers, libraries, schools, churches and other gathering places could be used for group access. State policies and grants encouraging the development of such centers in poor areas of the city would be a great benefit in making New York truly wired.

High-Speed Internet Access

High-speed Internet access, or "broadband" as it is commonly known, is vital to the increased use of computers and the Internet for business, education, health, government, entertainment and personal communications. Broadband can be provided either by a telecom company such as Verizon, a cable company such as Time Warner Cable or an Internet service provider such as Earthlink.

But, there are still relatively few home users of broadband services. Only approximately one person in ten has high-speed access nationwide. While many New Yorkers may have at work, they may not be getting its full-benefits due to their limited ability to use it for their own education, entertainment or personal communications while at work. Studies show that broadband users go online many, many more times per day than slower dial-up Internet users. Thus, increased broadband access would result in growth in a number of online services.

But, broadband infrastructure is extremely expensive and telecommunications companies are hesitant to shoulder all of the costs without government subsidies or guarantees that they will recapture their investments. In addition, concerns about stealing digital content such as music or movies (think Napster) have arisen due to the lack of technological 'locks' on their property that prevent copying and enforceable laws that prevent stealing on the Internet. This has hampered the growth and distribution of digital content. Thus, access to broadband has not been widespread. However, the State could help to promote increased broadband access in New York City's community technology centers, libraries, schools, and non-governmental organizations. This is an area in which the New York Public Service Commission could assist in promoting competition among broadband providers which would lower the cost of access. With a greater number of New Yorker's using broadband, the city will be able to offer advanced government services online in areas such as health and education.

Economic Development: Research & Development Hubs

Despite stories about the dot.com bust, information technology is still a leading sector for growth in New York City. The state's efforts have been extremely positive in promoting information technology investment in New York State. In fact, recently, the Albany area was chosen as a new research and development hub for computer chips by twelve domestic and international technology companies. While the project is aimed at promoting job growth upstate, it is likely to draw business to New York City in traditional areas of strength such as finance, law, and advertising as new companies come to do business in the State.

This new hub is based on the Silicon Valley model of partnerships between university research centers and private sector manufacturing centers. New York City's universities and surrounding technology companies could also become an important research and development hub for new emerging technologies. State efforts are vital in identifying what kind of research and development hub could be successful in the unique setting New York City provides.

New York City's current high-tech economic development zones have resulted in lower than expected results in part due to the heavy blows of the dot.com crisis and the attacks of September 11. State development of these zones might help to transition the fully-wired office spaces into community technology centers, office space for government employees without adequate access to technology or other facilities that might benefit the public as a whole.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.
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