Silicon Alley: Vanel Talks Tech Vision For SEQ

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Assemblyman Clyde Vanel visited Silicon Valley earlier this month to attend the WirelessU conference to speak to politicians and industry leaders from around the country about modernizing the state’s internet and technology infrastructure. 

BY TRONE DOWD

Assemblyman Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) has spent his first year in office embedded in efforts to further the state’s technological standing in the world. Vanel’s efforts have taken him across the globe, including France and Italy.

Earlier this month, he found himself representing New York in the tech capital of the world, Silicon Valley in California.

He discussed the details of his visit in the latest edition of his monthly newsletter.

“I attended a conference titled ‘WirelessU’ in San Francisco with public officials from around the country,” he wrote.

“Representing New York State was myself and Assemblymember Billy Jones (D-Plattsburg) from the north country.

Business leaders in the tech industry and technology leaders from various disciplines presented before us.”

The PRESS of Southeast Queens spoke to Vanel, who discussed where New York stands in terms of tech infrastructure and capabilities.

Preparing For the Future
Vanel described the WirelessU conference as a place “where government and technology meet.”

“The goal is to get our country leading in the world with respect to where we’re going in the future,” Vanel said.

Specifically, the assemblyman said that the focus on expanding New Yorkers’ access to wireless internet connectivity is priority number one. As chairman of the subcommittee on infrastructure in the state assembly, he has focused on the state’s ability to provide cutting edge connectivity.

“Our state’s’ infrastructure must be ready for the future 5G capacity,” he said. “New Yorkers must be ready for the technological and informational today and tomorrow.”

He said that there are still spots that he comes across when commuting to Albany every week where cellphone reception, broadband access and Wi-Fi is either nonexistent or sparse. While visiting France and Italy, Vanel said that he saw evidence proving that universal coverage is attainable if government is willing to invest, and he hopes to actively change that moving forward.

“I just got back from Italy, where they have city centers, suburbs and rural centers just like our state,” he said. “When I went to France a couple of months ago, I saw that they were able to wire even the rural areas with fiber optics. We are behind them.”

Fiber optics is the fastest form of broadband internet available.

Vanel acknowledged that certain regulatory differences as well as physical obstacles, such as terrain, make laying down the needed infrastructure difficult, but added that it is still a worthy investment to give people the ability to function competitively.

“Access to information, the internet and broadband is becoming a fundamental right, like the telephone or water,” Vanel said. “We have a lot of work to do in this Empire State. We are not empire when it comes to technology.”

The Importance of a Connected Future
By investing now, Vanel theorized that the state would be future-proofing itself. He said that while person-to-person communication, such as texting, and human-to-internet communication—for example, looking up a location on Google maps—are the two primary uses for the internet, this might soon change.

“We are moving to a place where we need to take into account what is called the ‘IOT,’ or the ‘internet of things,’” he said. “Our machines and our things will communicate with the internet and with each other more than we do.”

Vanel pointed to self-driving cars, security systems and other day-to-day items that could be connected to the web.

Today, there are already examples of this shift, with smart TVs and home artificial intelligence, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, becoming common household items.

“As we move towards that future, we need to realize that our current capacity is not great enough,” he said.

In his travels as assemblyman, Vanel has worked with colleagues whose districts are struggling to keep up with the more well connected parts of the state. Jones, who represents the 115th Assembly District, is in one of those areas.

He said that the lack of connectivity has affected schools and program availability as well as long-distance communication, something that came to light in the aftermath of recent natural disasters in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. In the event of such a disaster in New York, parts of the state are “not prepared” to keep lines of communication up and running, Jones said.

“People must communicate well, agencies must communicate well, the state must communicate well with the federal government,” Vanel said. “While the FCC is supposed to implement a first responders system that would always be on, we’re behind on that.”

In the District
In Southeast Queens, where heavy development is already underway, Vanel said that things were progressing.

“One of the first things that we are doing with New York State is bringing Downtown Jamaica up to speed,” Vanel said.

Currently, there is a plan to bring fiber optics to Downtown Jamaica by mid 2018. The plan works hand-in-hand with a plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz to create a hub for tech start-ups that move to the neighborhood in the coming years. More than $10 million has been allocated to the district to help the plan become a reality, and Vanel said that he wants to ensure that the infrastructure needed to draw businesses to Jamaica is ready to go as soon as possible.

“With the Jamaica Downtown Revitalization Initiative, I wanted to make sure there was a focus on our broadband capacity, both wireless and non-wireless,” he explained. “The Greater Jamaica Development Corporation has already announced plans to bring a business incubator to Jamaica on top of the Moda building [on Parsons Boulevard and 89th Avenue] as soon as next year. That can’t happen unless these businesses have the internet needed to compete with other companies.”

Vanel also pointed to York College as a potential tech hub for Jamaica, calling the school a “key anchor” for future plans.

“It is an exciting time for Southeast Queens,” Vanel said.

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