WCA, County’s Major Cities Partner on Gigabit Broadband

John Jordan | October 2016

Former NYSDOT Commissioner Joan McDonald

WHITE PLAINS—Chief officials of the Westchester County Association and the mayors of the cities of Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, White Plains and Yonkers announced on Oct. 6 that they have signed a “Smart Cities ComPact” to embrace smart growth initiatives. Tops on their agenda is bringing “Gigabit” broadband to Westchester County.

The initiative, estimated to cost approximately $750 million to implement, would involve extensive infrastructure investment. The WCA announced at the press conference staged at 1133 Westchester Ave. in White Plains that it had hired former New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald as a strategic advisor to The Blueprint for Smart Growth, an initiative announced in August. The cities Smart Growth compact chief objective is to bring Gigabit broadband to residences and businesses in the county. Gigabit broadband is a form of high speed Internet capable of providing data transfer download speeds of 1GB (gigabit) per second (Gbps). That download speed is approximately 200 times faster than normal broadband service.

William M. Mooney, Jr., CEO and president of the Westchester County Association
William M. Mooney, Jr., CEO and president of the Westchester County Association

Joining WCA President and CEO William M. Mooney, Jr. at the press conference were: Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano and White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach.

WCA’S Mooney termed the Gigabit broadband initiative a “game changer” that will “close the digital divide in Westchester County. He said the newly formed smart growth compact, which might be the first of its kind in the nation, would now assess the existing infrastructure that could help facilitate the Gigabit technology as well as private and public funding sources.

He said the hope is to bring Gigabit broadband to “every household, every business, health care and educational organization in the next three to five years.”

McDonald noted that based on conversations between the WCA and the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Brookings Institution, “for broadband to be successful you have to have critical mass. In bringing the four cities together we have that critical mass.”

William Cuddy, chairman of the WCA’s Blueprint for Smart Growth and senior vice president with commercial brokerage firm CBRE, said that “Gigachester,” in reference to the future introduction of Gigabit broadband in Westchester, would “revolutionize how we live here. It will not only leverage our relationship to New York City, but this flattens the world for us… We won’t be just the county north of New York City, we will be the county north of any city in the United States. We will be the county with access to any city in the world. That is unique, that is the paradigm shift taking place.”

Mooney noted that the WCA was in the process of putting together a Steering Committee for Smart Growth, comprised of key members of Westchester’s cities, healthcare, biotech, and education sectors, and business and nonprofit communities, who will help to determine sources of funding and the county’s needs and opportunities. A Project Director, who will be named shortly, will work on day-to-day basis with a project team to evaluate various models, current capacity, and potential providers.

“Smart growth is what we’re about, and Gigabit broadband will be the game-changer. Nothing will have transformed Westchester as much since the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge 61 years ago,” Mooney said.

Among some of the technological advances Gigabit broadband will make possible include: telemedicine and population health initiatives on a much wider level; municipal efficiencies such as controlling traffic patterns in real time; enhancing communications for first responders who need to share large amounts of data more rapidly and securely; additional online education in real time and the ability for businesses and others to download large files and videos in seconds rather than hours.

All four mayors in attendance at the event praised the initiative and said they would work with the WCA to analyze the existing infrastructure and help ascertain how the endeavor could be financed.

“This innovative initiative will help all of us compete successfully for the residents, industries, and jobs of the future, while positioning Westchester as a national leader in smart growth and digital infrastructure,” said New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson.

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano added, “Yonkers is committed to investing in the technological infrastructure of our city and surrounding communities. Working together with the Westchester County Association and my colleagues in government, we will create more jobs, build for emerging industries, further invest in our schools and better connect our communities. Once again, we are leading by example and are becoming innovators in smart growth.”

White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach said that the City of White Plains has at least some of the infrastructure necessary to facilitate Gigabit broadband. “The City of White Plains looks forward to working with the Westchester County Association and the Cities of Yonkers, New Rochelle and Mount Vernon on this initiative. It recognizes that cities are the critical backbone of the region and the drivers of future economic growth. By focusing on bringing gigabit broadband into our communities this initiative will help ensure our future competitiveness as a great place to both live and work,” he said.

Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas said, “We know that bridging the digital divide is key to closing the achievement gap for our students and boosting the economies of our small businesses. Mount Vernon is a town of big ideas and we deserve access to the broadband speed that will bring our plans to life.”

McDonald said that a challenge moving forward is to educate key stakeholders that funding for broadband construction is needed just as much as financing for conventional infrastructure needs.

She said that the benefits of infrastructure work on roads, bridges, mass transit are tangible since they can be readily seen. The telecommunications work to bring Gigabit broadband would mostly be undertaken underground and therefore “will be hard to explain to people.”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth