Finding an Oasis in New York's Broadband Deserts

Published in the New York Real Estate Journal


Robert BiancoYou can find anything in New York City. You can get a mile-high pastrami sandwich at 2:00 in the morning even on a Sunday. You can find a cozy restaurant that specializes in Anatolian cuisine and that is miraculously open on Mondays. You can find Louis C. K. doing an unannounced set at the Comedy Cellar on a random Tuesday. And you can also find the deserts of New York on any day of the week if you know where to look. These aren't deserts of sand, though. These are broadband deserts on the periphery of the highly-connected areas of Manhattan and the other boroughs, where high-speed telecom fiber hasn't ventured to yet even though the calendar says 2017.

These deserts have names, and a few of them might ring a bell:

• Williamsburg

• Dumbo

• Huge chunks of the Bronx and Queens

• Long Island City

• Every section of Brooklyn labeled "up and coming"

• The entire West Side of Manhattan

• Anywhere in the vicinity of a bridge

• Anywhere with cobblestones peeking out from under the pavement

• Countless numbers of buildings in the middle of east-west city blocks even in heart of Manhattan, far from the fiber that runs north-south on the major avenues

These areas of the city are woefully underserved by telecommunications fiber, leaving them in a broadband desert that doesn't do what companies need their connectivity to do. At best, companies in these areas—many of which represent the fastest-growing areas for emerging companies and professional centers in NYC—get download rates that are OK but are cursed with terrible upload rates that are disruptive to business operations on an hourly basis. Service providers in these areas call these services "business grade," but the dramatic difference between download and upload speeds is a huge red flag for any enterprise customer. That kind of service is really just residential service with a bow on it and a much higher price tag from the cable companies and LECs. It's better suited for families watching Netflix and playing Minecraft than for a business trying to send contracts, design images and other large files—which is every business today.

This "broadband gap" between the areas of New York that have true, enterprise symmetrical fiber (with upload and download speeds that meet corporate needs) and the areas that are broadband deserts is a huge drag on the city's economy. The problem is no secret. Even City Hall is trying to do something about it. But it isn't an easy problem to solve. Bringing traditional fiber to these deserts would likely mean:

• Tearing up hundreds of streets that haven't been dug through since the cobblestone era to bury thousands of miles of fiber lines to reach to the outer boroughs that currently only have copper lines;

• Disrupting traffic in the core of the city by creating fiber branches off the main trunks running north-south along the major avenues in order to extend networks to the center of east-west blocks;

• Digging up streets in residential areas all across the city to extend fiber networks from existing infrastructure (typically along subway lines) to the areas where there are fast-growing businesses; and

• Overcoming a million other engineering obstacles to a massive expansion of telecom infrastructure in a city that was founded more than a 100 years before Mozart was born.

I've been keeping a close eye on news from City Hall about their plan for addressing these problems and narrowing the broadband gap, but I won't hold my breath and neither should building owners that have properties in these deserts. Let's hope the city finds a solution to this before we're all wearing jetpacks and driving hover-cars, but in the meantime there are things that property owners can do to create a broadband oasis in the middle of their desert.

If you can't go under the ground, use the air. That's exactly what Fixed Wireless connectivity does to provide high-speed, symmetrical broadband to corporate customers. I have seen articles about how the city is also looking at wireless as a way to provide better service to these areas, but they seem to be talking about consumer-grade connectivity if I am reading the tea leaves correctly. That will work for the Netflix watchers of the world, but companies in these under-served areas need true enterprise connectivity. Fixed Wireless eliminates the upload to download broadband gap using point-to-point microwave technology to extend the reach of fiber and deliver a dedicated symmetrical Ethernet connection that can either augment or replace traditional fiber-based service. I've written recently about how fixed wireless works and how it solves some of the thorny issues of achieving true enterprise connectivity in a dense urban environment. All of those technical and business benefits hold true for bringing data connectivity to these deserts of New York.

Connectivity and data is the lifeblood of businesses today, and properties that are able to deliver true enterprise-grade connectivity are inherently more marketable in an era when a company's IT director and CIO have as much say in a leasing decision as the CEO or the person leading the real estate search. If you don't make yourself an oasis, these prospective tenants will only see a lifeless desert even if there isn't a grain of sand in sight in your part of the city.

Robert Bianco is a regional director for Windstream, New York, N.Y.