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Advocates struggle to bring high-speed fiber to New York

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On paper, New York is the perfect place for a high-speed fiber network: it's rich, densely packed, and riddled with old conduits that could be used to house the new infrastructure. But according to a new report in Crain's, efforts to lay new fiber have been stymied by politics and business concerns. The fiber would have to be laid in a maze of underground tunnels and ducts, maintained by a Verizon subsidiary called Empire City Subway (or ECS). Until ECS cleans up the mess of tunnels under the city, laying more fiber is effectively impossible — and by all indications, the company is in no hurry.

Part of the problem is simple cost: it's expensive to clear out the tunnels, and it's unclear how much return ECS would see on their investment. But Verizon also has an incentive to keep the underground tunnels messy. As long as there's no room for more fiber, the company will be the only game in town. It's led advocates like Susan Crawford to call for the city to step in, mandating a subterranean clean-up from ECS and opening the door for new fiber businesses in New York. It's an appealing idea, but it won't happen until someone steps in to break the stalemate.