The ConnectNYC Fiber Challenge

Possibly the biggest local policy issue in NYC for tech companies is the lack of good broadband infrastructure in the city. We could get into a debate about broadband policy at the local and national level, but this post isn't going to be about that. This post is about something City Hall is doing about the broadband issue.

In the spirit of "race to the top" and other contest based efforts to attack stubborn problems, NYC has launched the ConnectNYC Fiber Challenge in partnership with Time Warner Cable and Optimum Online (Cablevision) to provide fiber build out to businesses.

Here's how it works. You sign up at ConnectNYC, you get and sumbit a letter from your landlord saying they will allow fiber installation in your building, and then you describe how high speed broadband will positively impact your business.

The judges will select the winners and NYC EDC, Time Warner, and Optimum will invest $12mm over two years, with $7mm being invested in year one, into fiber buildouts for the winners. It is estimated that each installation will have a value of $50,000 of investment by Time Warner and Optimum.

In addition to getting a lot of local businesses high speed broadband, this contest will also give an indication to the city and local ISPs of where the most important neighborhoods are for broadband buildout.

We spend a lot of time with our portfolio companies dealing with infrastructure issues around real estate and broadband and I can tell you that this is big problem in NYC. Companies that want to move to low cost neighborhoods with interesting buildings like Red Hook, Gowanus, Vinegar Hill, the Greenpoint waterfront, Long Island City, and other similar places simply cannot do that due to the lack of good broadband. If the city wants to see these neighborhoods emerge commercially, they will need to deal wtih the broadband problem. ConnectNYC is a nice way to get going on the problem. If you are struggling to get a fiber installation in your building, give ConnectNYC a try.


Comments (Archived):

  1. John Revay

    Reading this post…..I remember a fred comment last year…..…Huge issue. The city should run fiber to every school building, fire house, police precinct, and library. Then put big honkin wifi towers on all those buildings. Then let any access provider provision service on that network. It would unleash more innovation than anything else the city could do. My partner Brad calls this “the five borough internet economic development zone”

    1. awaldstein

      Yup…NYC has been under construction since day 1. Sometime take a look at the PBS series on the history of NY.Chambers Street between Broadway and Greenwhich has been dug up and under construction of now 3 years!

      1. jason wright

        Officially 2 more years to completion.

        1. awaldstein

          Is there a link that shows what they are doing?I shop at Chambers Street Wines often so am often there and it amazes me that it just keeps going and going.

          1. jason wright

            try thishttp://www.lowermanhattan.i…

          2. awaldstein


      2. Anne Libby

        And they were telling businesses on Chambers to prepare for that construction back in 2003. Sigh.

    2. fredwilson

      i still think they should do this. maybe the next mayor will.

    3. ShanaC

      I like this idea. Especially when it comes to elementary schools – since there are so many of them, there would be lots of locations to break off fiber from. Especially in poor areas.

    4. LE

      “Then put big honkin wifi towers on all those buildings.”If the legacy providers are not asleep at the switch they will fund a grass roots campaign to significantly delay or block that because of FUD over health concerns from the wifi transmitters necessary to deliver that service. It’s one of those “can’t be proven BUT” issues. I’m not commenting on the validity of the claims. Just that there is enough of a leg to stand on and it would be fairly easy to rally people against it.Once again, from the Journal of “can always find links to support my point” there is:“WiFi has been rolled out too fast for science to keep up,” said Una St. Clair, a parent from the Vancouver area who moved her children into private schools in order to avoid exposure.…And for the opposing arguments, there is this, to be balanced and fair:…The problem with this type of thing is that once the idea is in people’s head it’s really hard to refute. Of course the same issues exist with cell phones but you make a conscious decision to use those, they aren’t required.I had a situation in another building I was in where I could have brought in a cell tower which would have offset condo fees for all owners. I decided against it because the amount that would accrue to me individually didn’t offset the perceived risk from such a huge structure (as well as the eye sore part.)

  2. jason wright

    Does NYC have LTE coverage?What forces hastened the roll out of the electricity grid in NYC? Was it push or pull?

    1. JimHirshfield

      light. let there be light. electricity –> light.

      1. jason wright

        from light to enlightenmentI recommend fiber

        1. JimHirshfield


    2. fredwilson


  3. awaldstein

    Digging up NY to put fiber down is a really daunting task. Digging up NY and having a fiber backbone will do more to change the economy of the city for the better than any thing I can possibly think of.This is a great dream worth working to make it happen.

    1. fredwilson

      i totally agree

  4. takingpitches

    I think it is great that some startups will be benefited by this, I do. But:Challenges (Kickstarter, behance, Kaggle) to emerge overlooked talent with clients/capital…that’s cool.Challenges to get monopolists with government franchises to do what they are supposed to be doing..that’s not so cool.

    1. fredwilson

      can’t argue that point.

    2. Mordy Kaplinsky

      Unless there is a policy change in the US to create neutral fiber infrastructure that any provider can connect to, you will always have businesses that control the broadband infrastructure. The US ideologically loves businesses and recoils at big government and in this case that works against us.

      1. deancollins

        lol i found a communist….how dare you suggest wholesale service like roads take place of big business :)somehow i dont think Verizon shareholders would go the same way Telstra shareholders did with the conduit buyout for the Australian NBN

        1. Cam MacRae

          Ha! You beat me to it.

        2. Mordy Kaplinsky

          I didn’t realize that common sense qualified me as a communist :)I don’t believe in a “right” overarching ideology, only a case by case realistic assessment of which approach is right. In this case I truly believe that the Australian model as heralded by @cammacrae:disqus is the right approach.Yet we in the US live in an imperfect world, so better have the broadband provided by monopolies than not at all.

      2. takingpitches

        MSO and Telco broadband unfortunately is the decades-long unholy alliance a particular type of Big Business (of the rent-seeking, monopolist, non-innovative kind) and Big Government.Solution is competition. The government actively working to lower the entry requirements instead of helping this type of Big Business to put up tires spikes to deflate the wheels of innovation.We are largely too late for terrestrial (unless Google Fiber comes into NYC), but opening up spectrum to Wild Wild West competition (as I noted in my comment to last Thursday’s post re: the Open Internet) is the Next Great Hope.

        1. Mordy Kaplinsky

          There’s a certain amount of truth to your comment on the MSO and Telco space although when it came to Fiber there was a chance to do it right, which is an opportunity we unfortunately lost

          1. takingpitches

            Completely agree.Among other things, the Congress/DOJ/FCC have failed in enforcing against the incumbent backsliding with regard to the provisions of the 1996 Telecom Act requiring copper-sharing under which the DLECs entered, in failing to extend those provisions to fiber-build so resale entry via resale of the fiber loop and fiber to the door was a real entry strategy, and finally, in ensuring that the Telco and MSOs competed to make the build out to businesses instead of standing down and enjoying their respective monopoly rents.It’s just beyond sad and seemingly defiant of economics that a more extensive broadband build has not taken place in the richest and one of the densest cities in the world.The market from a demand-side is there; unfortunately the least-innovative sector of tech is on the supply side.

          2. Mordy Kaplinsky

            @takingpitches:disqus glad we’re on the same page :)A side little note: When Verizon started discussing Fiber to the Home, they blackmailed the government in to not requiring wholesale agreements for third parties to use the fiber by threatening not to invest and hold further degrading our broadband position and competitiveness globally.Sorry I don’t remember all the legalese and telco terms from the time but anybody from that space can fill you in.

          3. takingpitches

            Yes, the impenetrable doublespeak that if we have to offer “advanced services” on a “UNE” or “resale” basis, broadband innovation in the US will stall.Twelve years later, we see how that worked out.

      3. ShanaC

        true, and ouch

      4. Wavelengths

        Another example of how the purely capitalistic philosophy works against progress.The marketplace is not a level playing field. People cannot even make decisions about what they want to buy if the cost of entry for new choices is too high, and the stranglehold of existing systems is too great.

        1. Mordy Kaplinsky

          @Wavelengths:disqus the answer lies in the long forgotten middle ground

          1. Wavelengths

            Sigh …

  5. JimHirshfield

    Cool. By my math, this is a couple hundred businesses (~300?) that will get fiber. Great start, but what then? Will this service even be affordable to bootstrapped or angel funded start-ups? I sure hope so!

    1. Mordy Kaplinsky

      Jim. I think this is more along the lines of the federal broadband for libraries and schools program. If you get this kind of backbone in place it becomes significantly cheaper to branch of it for additional buildings,essentially creating a domino effect.

      1. jason wright

        do libraries have a future?

        1. Mordy Kaplinsky

          In some digital form, absolutely! in the library as in space and paper books, I have no idea.

        2. ShanaC

          I hope they do. I grew up in libraries. Great places to go when you are having a dorky day and need somewhere to hang out.

          1. takingpitches

            I love libraries. We didn’t have many books growing up, so we made frequent trips there anyway, but the killer was that when I was 13, I got my first summer job at the Five Corners Public Library in JC.When I was not re-shelving, I checked out books for patrons with ink date stamps. There is a lot of nostalgia in old library tools. I loved card catalogs in those old library drawers. That I think instilled a life-long love of ways of organizing information.

          2. jason wright

            as a kid I used the mobile library when it parked up outside my apartment block on a friday evening. a great service, and still in service.

        3. Wavelengths

          I get a certain value off of the printed page that I don’t find on the internet. The internet will lead me to new connections that have something to do with my original question. The paper page may show me things that appear disconnected, but that may take me in a different, also productive, direction.If I want to know about services in a town, I still like to look at a phone book. I’m more likely to see all the businesses, and I’ll get a flavor of who’s who because of the size and content of the ad. Not available on the web. (Especially in the more rural areas.)I also gained a huge education by being in proximity to the Encyclopedia Britannica and the World Book Encyclopedia. (Anyone remember that?) I could start out looking up an answer, find the adjacent article to also be interesting, and then head down a wonderfully unexpected journey of discovery.Google just doesn’t offer the same experience.

    2. fredwilson

      more like 100 because the costs to do some locations could be substantially more than $50k. its not a fixed number of businesses, its a fixed amount of money.but even if its only 100 businesses, that is also 100 buildings which could be thousands of businesses impacted

      1. ShanaC

        That seems really small. It sounds like someone may want to develop a broadband/fiber concern to do some of the funding of this.

        1. LE

          To me this is really simple. If this is good for everybody (like roads, phone service, airports etc.) it needs to be funded and paid for by everybody. Which means it comes out of tax dollars.What I find really ironic about this entire discussion is the fact that on the one hand everybody is rallying against the cable companies (or verizon) for charging for this and that, restricting bandwidth, jacking up their bills and the like. But then they expect the same companies to undertake billion dollar network expansions with no guarantees “just because it’s the right thing to do”. Or something like that. Along with “why can’t we get HBO on the web w/o a cable subscription” when the money the cable companies made from that was what allowed them to build out their internet capabilities in the first place.It’s very simple to me. Companies make money and they invest. They don’t make money, they aren’t profitable they can’t take a portion of that money and take risks with it. Notice the initiatives that Google is taking with fiber? Where do you think the money they are using to do that is coming from? It’s coming from the extreme profitability of adsense driven by their dominance in search. If they weren’t sitting on a wad of cash they wouldn’t be doing that. The cable companies business model is under attack. While they have a monopoly the threats to their business make them have to be more careful with how they spend what they have.

      2. JimHirshfield

        Ah, thanks for clarity on businesses vs buildings

  6. William Mougayar

    Where is the bunny Voice? I was about to use it.  

    1. fredwilson

      it’s been gone from this blog for about a weeki will see what’s going on

      1. William Mougayar

        Weird I saw it yesterday & day before.

        1. jason wright

          if it was a talking white rabbit take a break

          1. ShanaC

            maybe his voice hurts?

          2. jason wright

            he needs a good rabbit rights lawyer

          3. Wavelengths

            Hey! Harvey and I took a few days off together to go hunting. We’re looking for carrots and for evidence of cell phone service in West Texas. Not much luck with either. He’ll be back.

    1. kidmercury

      i’m definitely rooting for google. we need our people to solve the broadband stuff. time warner is not our people.

      1. Tom Labus

        A little fire under Optimum and TW won’t hurt either.I’m going with the Tigers. Looks like a great Series. Would love to see a day game or 2 but………….

        1. kidmercury

          def rooting for the tigers, primarily because i’m bitter about the giants beating the phillies in the playoffs in recent history. but i think the tigers have the better team here. cards blew that series with their poor defense.

    2. fredwilson

      i would love it

      1. LE

        They wouldn’t have any easier of a time solving the last mile (or the last 100 feet) issue then anyone else.

        1. kidmercury

          they are already changing the game around the last mile, running their own cables.

          1. LE

            “changing the game”.Most of that issue deals with the cost of the equipment and how they have lowered that. That isn’t the obstacle though in NYC as I see it.Take this statement from the article:But to reduce the cost of the actual last mile to users’ homes it’s telling people in Kansas City that if they want to be the first to get fiber, they’ll have to convince their neighbors to sign up. The goal is to get a critical mass of between 5 percent and 25 percent of the homes in a given neighborhoodThis is an entirely different animal then what would happen in NYC, particularly with business. The buildings are controlled by landlords. The streets aren’t like the ones pictured in Kansas City (rural and suburban type neighborhoods). And KC seems primarily a residential push anyway. But even if it were business it wouldn’t have the same obstacles as in NYC. Having google get clearances in KC is a little different also than in NYC with all the different stakeholders, politicians. In KC they would probably turn out in droves if someone who won an oscar turned out in the town square. No so in NYC (exaggeration to make a point NYC isn’t going to BOGU for google if you know what I mean. And google can’t bribe like the guy doing the small construction project can either)Residential projects in NYC are generally apartment buildings controlled by one owner or small buildings (controlled by some immigrant living in the boroughs) or worse yet a coop board that is controlled by, in some cases, older folks who worry about their building being torn up. Some condos also with boards. And they aren’t rushing to do anything quickly it’s a power trip. So it’s simply not the same animal that can be approached by some (as the article says) “social engineering”.All I’m saying is it’s not a fair comparison. It’s like comparing what works in Iceland vs. what works in Russia.By the way I was on the board of a small condo several years ago and even with my superior persuasion I wasn’t able to convince the two luddites on the board that we should be able to bring Comcast into that building (there were doctors in the building with offices that wanted it for TV for patients). One older guy didn’t care and the other one was all anal retentive about the parking lot being jackhammered and repaired. Asking stupid questions like “how do we know the contractor is going to fix it if there are problems”. As if Comcast is in the business of having shitty contractors cause problems for them or the contractors want to risk losing Comcast accounts. I can only imagine what would happen in NYC with the people who control the decision making.

          2. kidmercury

            as with any major innovation there are three steps:1. make something that actually works2. enter small market with profitable business model3. scale and iterate until you can conquer big marketswith google fiber in kansas city, step 1 and 2 are being achieved. maybe they wont get to step 3, but given that google’s market cap is way larger than time warners, i think they can get there. unless amazon gets there first…..

  7. jason wright

    choose one area, fiber it, create critical web tech density, and then retreat to a safe distance.

  8. jonathan hegranes

    My money is on Fios or Google winning this battle…

  9. Mark Essel

    Excellent, will get the guys here at FastSociety signing up asap. On second thought we’re in the same building as FourSquare and 10gen so I assume the building has primo connectivity, could be totally off.

  10. kidmercury

    peak broadband is a challenge facing many cities. new york is obviously most embarrassing although even chicago has signs of emerging broadband challenges in its most tech-dense areas. that this problem is being addressed is great, although the only long-term fix is massive spectrum deregulation — everything else is a band aid (probably necessary and a good idea, but a band aid nonetheless).

    1. Mark Essel

      I’m still deluded enough to believe in one huge mesh network, where owners of routers/wifi beacons enable themselves and others to get online. We’ll still need cross oceanic cable and uplinks to remote locales.

      1. kidmercury

        yes! one huge mesh network!i do believe internet companies are going to start buying up real estate, and once enough of that happens, more bold landline strategies can begin. amazon, with its warehouses and data centers, could make this happen…..though perhaps that is just my inner amzn fanboy coming out.

        1. awaldstein

          Like railroad right or ways for internet companies?Interesting fancy!

    2. fredwilson

      agreed on spectrum deregulation.

    3. ShanaC

      How does deregulating spectrum help with getting fiber into the ground in NYC?

      1. kidmercury

        wont get anything into the ground, but will enable more frequencies currently allocated exclusively for other media for wifi transmission, which will improve speed greatly. ultimately the idea that spectrum needs to be allocated needs to be done away with. here is my all-time favorite article on spectrum:

    4. bert blyleven

      ” although the only long-term fix is massive spectrum deregulation” Whaaaaat? I thought the only long-term fix was, like, a return to the gold standard. This ain’t your granddaddy’s kidmercury commenting!

      1. kidmercury

        lol your comment gave me a good chuckle although to clarify i have always said i favored something *similar to* a gold standard — but probably NOT the actual gold standard employed in much of american history. gold needs to be somewhat free-floating otherwise it is simply governments trying to force the value of gold which will never work, especially if we have a world that becomes more tribal and thus involves many more currencies/ comment regarding spectrum deregulation pertains to how peak bandwidth gets solved. ultimately everything boils down to money, so the longer the money problem grows the more it can pollute everything, but even if the money situation is fixed, spectrum deregulation is still needed to truly solve the spectrum problem.

  11. William Mougayar

    Great initiative & it has the double effect of raising visibility on that issue even for non-winners. Toronto is jaleous of New York, while it leads North American high-rise construction

    1. PhilipSugar

      I was in Toronto two weeks ago. The number of cranes is staggering. Almost looks like Shanghai.

      1. Abdallah Al-Hakim

        We will have to see how these new rises fill up!!

  12. PhilipSugar

    This is a stupid question, but what speed are we talking about?Here in the hinterlands what we do is subscribe to both Verizon and Comcast.Verizon is 150Mbs down 50Mbs upComcast is 100Mbs down and 10Mbs upDoes that not work? Or are you saying you can’t get that in NYC? Of course we keep all production servers in in datacenters, that’s just used to connect..

    1. fredwilson

      with fiber you can get 100Mbs symmetric or more

      1. jason wright

        The ITU spec for *real* 4G is up to 1 Gbit/s..

      2. PhilipSugar

        That is fiber all the way to router. I’m just surprised that we have that everywhere and NYC doesn’t have that. We have it mainly for residential, i.e. TV, but businesses get to tag along. They make it non-symmetrical for business not technical reasons (they don’t want you streaming video to compete with them). That’s a whole different discussion. However, if you are dealing with Time Warner and Cablevision you can be assured that will be a factor.

        1. LE

          “NYC doesn’t have that.”NYC is a clusterf*k in terms of doing the type of construction necessary to bring this about. Not that it’s easy elsewhere. At the office we have a pretty fast Comcast connection but haven’t been able to get Fios in the office complex (about 60 units approx.) And the fiber is right outside running in the street (it feeds the surrounding area). Verizon just stopped spending the money to bring it the last few feet. All attempts to get them to do it have failed. I even spoke with the construction manager and basically the word from above was they weren’t doing any more buildout in our particular area. At home we have both Fios and Comcast. Fios tore up the streets before we moved in. They had sub contractors going door to door doing sales for Fios.This is really an economic issue for them. It costs quite a bit for the construction. It’s not trivial.”they don’t want you streaming video to compete with them”If the government wants to regulate this and guarantee them a return on their investment (as with pre att breakup, utilities, a monopoly) then I’m sure they would be glad to allow others to compete (glad probably isn’t the word, maybe tolerate). On the other hand if they have to invest so much money to string the cable why should they allow others to do this? They are a business.

  13. deancollins

    1. Free Fiber Build-Out. I understand that if the Tenant isselected in the ConnectNYC Fiber Competitionthe Tenant’s rental property will receive free fiber build-outfrom a participating Internet ServiceProviders (ISP), either Time Warner Cable or Cablevision. I agreeto provide the ISP access to wire theTenant’s property without a fee for entry or any ongoing rentalcharges or revenue sharing. Subsequentnegotiations may take place between the ISP and other tenants locatedat the same property regardingfiber wiring.Well that’s a shame, basically you are just changing your “Cable”handcuffs for “Fiber” handcuffs.I was hoping it would be a NBN style consortium where you had yourchoice of providers vying for your ISP business…..something that would drive down pricing/increase SLA’s /increase product functionality+add ons.Cheers,Dean


    You’re a master Fred!.ABS

  15. Siminoff

    I do not see why there is a difference between, electricity, water, sewer and Internet. They are all utilities in my opinion and should be supplied equally to everyone. What NYC is doing is a great step but I think they (and other municipalities) need to go much further then this.

    1. fredwilson


  16. Jonathan Trent

    Wow! Pretty cool. Let’s get this going in some other cities too.

  17. Abdallah Al-Hakim

    so is that a ‘we built that’ or ‘you did not build that’ slogan 🙂

  18. spektor

    OOOOO! Time Warner. How can we lose. 🙂

  19. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Increasingly, I find my most productive time to be when I am offline…Ironic, I guess!? 😉

    1. Tom Labus

      Maybe online is to gather and offline is to think.

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        True, Tom. But, I’m inclined to think that Offline is the new Online, also 😉

  20. jason wright

    LTE renders fiber obsolete?

  21. dainik bhasker

    . It sounds like someone may want to develop a broadband/fiber concern to do some of the funding of this.