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ON Oct. 19, I announced the launch of ConnectNYC, an innovative city-sponsored competition to encourage growing commercial and industrial businesses in New York City to apply for free fiber cable wiring and to ensure the city continues to establish itself as a leader in connectivity and innovation.

The competition — one of a suite of initiatives originally announced by Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel in June — is designed to assist small or medium-sized businesses in unwired or underwired buildings by providing an opportunity for free, fast-track wiring.

Companies can apply through a competitive process being led by the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

Awards will be given to companies based on a set of evaluation criteria, including how additional connectivity will help them grow their businesses, the potential to improve broadband infrastructure in underserved areas, and the business’ proximity to other applicants.

Once the winning businesses are selected, Time Warner Cable Business Class and Cablevision, which have partnered with the city on this initiative, will commence free fiber build-out, with over 100 businesses expected to be fiber wired in the first year of the program.

By the end of the second year of the program the total number of businesses is expected to reach 240.

The application process for ConnectNYC officially begins today and will be open through Nov. 27, 2012.

Winning companies are expected to be announced in early 2013.

In today’s world, broadband is a vital piece of infrastructure, and we need to make sure New York City’s wiring is competitive with other cities.

Expanding broadband across the city is part of our strategy to make New York City a great place to do business and create jobs.

ConnectNYC is being led by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and ChallengePost, a New York City startup that enables competitive public problem-solving.

The goal of the competition is to capitalize on New York City’s existing advantages in connectivity and innovation, while also addressing long-term challenges facing the city and the nation in this area.

Businesses with fewer than 100 employees in all five boroughs and across all industries are eligible to apply on www.NYC.gov or by calling 311.

Applications can be submitted by individual businesses only, and will be evaluated on proximity to areas currently underserved by broadband infrastructure; proximity to other applying businesses in order to encourage clustering and efficiency in broadband installation; and the anticipated impact of having broadband access on business operations.

As part of the application process, applicants must obtain a signed letter of consent from their landlord at the time of submission.

Once selections have been made, businesses chosen to participate will be required to sign a one-year service contract with a participating Internet Service Provider at negotiated market rates prior to being eligible to receive fiber build-out.

The partnering Internet Service Providers — Time Warner Cable Business Class and Cablevision — will then begin fiber wiring over 100 winning businesses, continuing on their previous commitments to deploy fiber optics to areas across New York City as part of their recent cable television franchise renewals.

The value of the total fiber wiring being provided by Time Warner Cable Business Class and Cablevision during the full two-year program will equal $12 million and will reach approximately 240 businesses.

In order to ensure the competition serves businesses across all sectors, a minimum of 25% of the overall award value will be granted to businesses located in Industrial Business Zones.

Thanks to rapid growth in New York City’s technology sector, as well as a number of groundbreaking city-sponsored initiatives, including Applied Sciences NYC, New York has recently gained universally-recognized momentum in technology and innovation.

However, despite these advantages, there remain challenges in this area that must be addressed in order to maintain this momentum and ensure a global leadership position for the future.

These specific challenges fall into three separate categories, including:

* The “Last Mile,” in which broadband infrastructure exists within the streets and the avenues but is not connected to buildings where businesses can utilize them, particularly within a number of emerging high-tech neighborhoods across the city;

* “Digital Deserts,” in which there are underserved pockets in industrial and manufacturing neighborhoods that lack broadband infrastructure in the surrounding streets; and

* The “Digital Divide,” a national problem, which persists in the city with low-adoption rates for broadband connectivity within low-income communities.

ConnectNYC seeks to address these challenges by creating a way to accelerate fiber infrastructure build-out in areas of the city that otherwise may have taken longer, and efficiently bringing together commercial and industrial business demand for fiber broadband connectivity.

In addition to ConnectNYC, the city’s suite of larger broadband initiatives features a variety of other innovative programs that will be implemented over the course of the next several months.

These include: WiredNYC, a building certification program that will evaluate the broadband infrastructure of New York City buildings in order to encourage and accelerate deployment of leading broadband technologies; NYC Broadband Connect Map, a crowd-sourced, dynamic website in which businesses can learn about connectivity availability and capabilities in a given building or neighborhood; Broadband Express, an initiative led by Deputy Mayor Steel in partnership with the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and the NYC Department of Transportation, designed to simplify operational issues, as well as regulatory hurdles for Internet Service Providers (ISPs); and CitizenConnect, a competition to be led by NYCEDC and DoITT — in partnership with Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) — to develop mobile applications that will help city residents access workforce development opportunities, jobs listings and worker support programs such as childcare, healthcare and transportation.

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