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Crains: Dems: School cellphone ban will be history

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  • Maria Dapontes-Dougherty
    Dems: School cellphone ban will be history Mayoral debate on tech issues puts mobile phones in schools and franchise agreements between the city and private
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 26, 2013

      Dems: School cellphone ban will be history

      Mayoral debate on tech issues puts mobile phones in schools and franchise agreements between the city and private sector in spotlight. Candidates vow greater scrutiny, saying consumers get high prices but poor service for broadband.

      APRIL 26, 2013 3:52 P.M.
      NYC Start-up cityThe Democratic candidates for mayor discussed their opinions on technology in the city.Photo: Annie Karni

      Updated:  April 26, 2013 5:16 p.m.

      Day 1: Cellphone policy changes.

      The Bloomberg administration's longstanding policy of banning cellphones and other electronics from public schools would be overhauled by many of the Democratic mayoral candidates seeking to succeed him, the group of six said at a tech forum Friday afternoon at New York Law School.

      "So many kids today have the mobile devices, and yet the schools still ban them," said city Comptroller John Liu. "We've got to rethink that policy. We can't say to our kids we want them to access the Internet to learn on the Internet and when they come to school take away the only device they have to access the Internet. That's a policy that needs to be overhauled."

      When pressed by the moderator, BuzzFeed Editor-in-chief Ben Smith, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio agreed they would support lifting the ban if elected mayor.

      The mayoral forum—the crowning event on a half-day conference "Start-Up City," organized by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer—focused on issues of broadband connectivity as well as the role computers and tablets should play in the public education system.

      The candidates agreed broadband providers like Verizon—franchises that profit from lucrative agreements with the city—are failing to deliver quality service and are leaving major swaths of the outer boroughs offline. Connected New Yorkers, meanwhile, pay high rates for slow service.

      "Verizon was supposed to have provided affordable access to 80% of city by now," Mr. de Blasio said. "Only 50% of city has been reached." Mr. de Blasio said Internet service in New York City was 29 times more expensive than in South Korea. "We won't have a fair city unless we use our power through this franchise agreement to get it done."

      A Verizon spokesman replied, "It would be nice if Mr. de Blasio, a mayoral candidate, would have reached out to us first. He's comparing apples to oranges when trying to generate a headline." [The Bloomberg administration backed up the company's account. Click here for the full story.]

      Ms. Quinn called the franchise agreement a "profound power that the mayor has," and said it is City Hall's job to make sure those agreements get pulled back if the provider isn't meeting agreed upon standards. "We may have to look at the city taking this on," she said, setting a deadline of 2018 for New York City's broadband speed and cost to be competitive, rather than an expensive and sluggish outlier. Mayoral candidate Adolfo Carrion also said he supported a big municipal broadband network.

      A frequent critic of Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Liu said the billionaire mayor has shrugged off the fact that cable subscribers had to cope with blackouts while those companies argued over retransmission fees. "His attitude is, 'if they can't watch the World Series, they can go read a book,'" Mr. Liu said. "I kid you not."

      Mr. Bloomberg treats the franchise companies like separate private businesses, the comptroller said, adding, "It's our responsibility to make sure our residents who are subject to these monopolies actually get the service they've already paid for."

      The mayoral candidates were also thrown a curveball about whether they would allow the police department to purchase unmanned drones for surveillance. Ms. Quinn and Messrs. Thompson and de Blasio agreed drones should not be used for security in the city, citing civil liberties concerns. Mr. Carrion said he would not rule out the use of drones, while candidate Sal Albanese said he opposed drones on a practical level, because the skies over New York City are already too crowded.

      Correction: Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer organized a half-day conference called "Start-Up City." The name was missated in an earlier version of the article "Dems: School cellphone ban will be history," published April 26, 2013.

      Maria Dapontes-Dougherty

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