Bridging the Digital Divide With Street-Smart Innovation

Bridging the Digital Divide With Street-Smart InnovationThe Digital Divide Has Created Two Classes of Citizens, Which Has Serious Implications for Everyone

NEW YORK, NY — Digitization has had a profound impact on how people access information. It’s changed the way we consume media, shop, and navigate our day, but access to online services is not universally available to everyone.

More than 3.2 million people in New York do not have access to broadband Internet. They have none of the services that many of us have regular access to. This digital divide has created two classes of citizens that are split along socioeconomic lines—and it has serious implications for everyone.

Providing citizens with open access to reliable infrastructure such as mass transit, electricity, and water made New York City the economic powerhouse it is today. Improving access to broadband is just as vital today as electricity was back in 1882, because these things aren’t just infrastructure, they’re growth engines. Finding a way to provide universal access to broadband will vastly improve the quality of life for everyone and provide significant economic and social benefits for cities and municipalities.

Public and Private Partnerships

There are several new initiatives working to bridge the digital divide including an announcement last July by The City of New York to bring free, high-speed broadband service to more than 16,000 New Yorkers living in five public housing developments in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

CityBridge, a New York–based consortium of technology and advertising companies, has started to deploy LinkNYC, an ultra-fast, municipal network that will bring WiFi to millions of New Yorkers, small businesses, and visitors across all five boroughs. The LinkNYC network will provide a range of other services, including free phone calls to any where in the United States, a touchscreen tablet interface to access City services, wayfinding, and 911 and 311 calls. It will also serve as free mobile device charging stations.

“The LinkNYC program is at a huge scale with a Link installed on almost every street corner across the city. It’s one of the largest municipal programs on the planet, and all of this is free to taxpayers because it will be paid for with digital out-of-home advertising,” said Dave Etherington, EVP, Chief Strategy Officer, Intersection. “LinkNYC is a great utility that promises to change the urban experience in New York by equalizing and democratizing life in the city.”

Mr. Etherington was part of a panel discussion at The Advertising Club of New York’s Out-of-Home: NOW 2015 held last week in New York. The panel, Looking at Connected Cities and Municipal Partnerships, included Randy Ramusack, CEO/Founder, LQD; Andy Sriubas, EVP, Strategic Planning & Development, Outfront Media; Mark Boidman, Managing Director, Peter J. Solomon Company. Stuart Elliot of Media Village served as the moderator.

The Digital Divide Has Created Two Classes of Citizens, Which Has Serious Implications for Everyone

A new urban technology hub called PALO promises multiple city services including free high-speed WiFi along with information on nearby attractions, restaurants, retail, events, emergency alerts, public service announcements, maps, and taxi beacons. LQD, a developer of community technology hubs, launched PALO in 2014, and the platform is aimed at municipalities, private developers, academic institutions, and entertainment venues.

Computing has advanced from bulky mainframe computers to personal computers and now to mobile. Providing access to information at street-level is the next logical step in computing, according to Randy Ramusack, CEO and Founder of LQD. “Mobile devices have placed an incredible amount of power in our hands, but along the way we have lost our sense of community. Most of us don’t know what’s going on within a few blocks of where we live; today people don’t really know their neighborhood. They know more about what’s going on in Facebook with their friends in Singapore than what’s going on down the street. We’re passionate about community computing, which is about connecting people to the town square and to the information that they always used to get.”

Tackling Privacy Concerns

Data breaches have become part of modern life. Most people are concerned about protecting their information, not only from hackers, but also from companies looking to profit from data collection.

LinkNYC has been built with a ‘citizen first’ mandate using the most rigorous standards to protect people’s private information. “It’s important that we are as clear and transparent as we can be in terms of the data that we use,” said Etherington. “As long as you’re transparent about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and most crucially that there’s a real value exchange. We’re not just taking people’s data to make money. Once you make that clear, people will be okay with it and then you will begin to see it used everywhere.”

“If we don’t do this right, we’re going to have pushback from the civic mindset. We need to engage and enable people to want to use these devices that we’re putting out there,” said Ramusack.

There’s a distinct difference between a connected city and smart city, according to Mark Boidman. A connected city may employ WiFi or some kind of connecting technology, but a smart city is about how municipalities use that network to provide services in order to solve problems for urban dwellers.

“If you’re providing services that will solve a problem for city dwellers, that’s valuable and they will probably be comfortable giving away some of their data in exchange for those services,” said Boidman.

Making Out-of-Home Smarter

Smart Cities initiatives represent a $1.5 trillion opportunity over the next decade for software and hardware companies, according to Boidman. Increased spending by companies such as Intel, Cisco, and IBM, which have been working on Smart Cities for several years, could bring additional dollars into out-of-home media.

“Cisco and IBM have been focused on this space for a while, but they haven’t wanted to talk about it. Now they want to talk about it, and a lot of that has to do with Smart Cities,” said Boidman.“If you can use these solutions to help make out-of-home smarter, then more dollars should flow to digital out-of-home media.”

“The reason why Intel, Cisco and IBM are watching the out-of-home space is because Google has validated this space, and now things are really going to change big time. Google is looking for their next big advertising market and they’ve found it,” added Ramusack.

The real opportunity for the digital out-of-home sector is to get in front of more technology companies and explain to them about why they need to invest even more in this sector.

To bring more dollars into the medium, Boidman believes that agency models will need to evolve further to the point where media specialists are no longer necessary, and programmatic buying will also play a large part. “Our view is that media specialists will be extinct. The idea here is that with new technologies, there won’t be a need for media specialists in the future. When media specialists go away you will see more dollars flow into out-of-home as silos break down. As silos break down the agency model also changes and then we will see more dollars come into the space. As more dollars come in, it will fund the technology that’s being deployed and the technology will get smarter.”

Photos courtesy: Margarita Corporan for The Advertising Club of New York and LQD

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