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Broadband and IoT in the big city: A conversation with NYC’s CTO Miguel Gamiño

Miguel A. Gamiño is New York City’s CTO. Appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in October 2016, he is working to expand broadband and create a seamless internet-of-things experience in the city. Before coming to New York, Gamiño was CIO in San Francisco, where his efforts included the creation of the city’s online business portal.

GCN spoke with Gamiño about his work in government IT and what he sees on the horizon. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

In the past few years, between your time in San Francisco and New York City, what trends in local government IT have you’ve noticed?

It is getting more mature and strategic. Historically, like with other large organizations, it has been something that has been built over time by responding to developments. Now, governments are really starting to figure out how important it is to really invest in technology for strategic and enterprise-wide business outcomes and benefits. That’s similar to big organizations in the private sector, also. Technology continues to be recognized as more and more important to all of the different facets of the business. Technology isn’t just something you invest in, it’s something you invest in to improve all the other aspects of the business.

And in government, local government in particular, that’s super important because we do so many things that are important to so many people. That’s the way I’ve felt about it for many years. But I’ve seen more municipalities at the mayoral level start to recognize that.

Has it become easier for people within government to realize the importance of IT tools?

It’s getting easier. The consumerization of technology over the last couple of decades has helped. People who are not technologists are using more technology in their personal lives. It is becoming a tool that everyone uses, and that has helped with understanding the value of IT at the upper levels.

The internet of things has become a big topic of conversation in cities. Where do you see it making a big impact?

I think there is huge potential, for sure. The way we’re thinking about it in New York is not just about the individual IoT uses cases. So it’s not just about smart lighting or smart this or smart that, but we’re just starting to think about the greater potential that exists. When those smart projects work together in a coordinated and integrated fashion, it can have a measurable impact on the public experience.

IoT is an opportunity to enhance a seamless experience within government and improve the operational efficiencies and insights for specific agencies.

One of the big smart-city-style projects that New York has been working on is LinkNYC. What lessons has the city learned from it, and what are the expansion plans?

We’re still implementing the initial vision, which was to create a high-speed Wi-Fi service in public spaces and also an interface to city information and services. That process of deployment is still happening.

Are there other infrastructure plans you’re working on? For example, has the city begun to think about 5G?

We’re thinking a lot about it. We’ve got some initial thoughts on how we might help 5G deployment come to fruition sooner. None of those thoughts are to the point where we’re prepared to share them because we’re still thinking through them and developing them. But investigating 5G and the future of connectivity is part of our daily work.

What benefits does the city itself see in the expanded spectrum?

Just generally speaking, the primary priority is to deliver on the mayor’s commitment to making affordable and high-speed connectivity available in every part of the city. 5G, wireless technologies and wireline technologies are all part of accomplishing that. We believe that a connected community is one that is prepared to engage, participate and one that has access to opportunities.

How much of the city is lacking this coverage?

It depends on what you mean by coverage. Right now we’re assessing the current state in the city, but I will tell you a significant number of New Yorkers don’t have adequate or affordable --  or sometimes any -- access to the internet.

New York and San Francisco have larger IT budgets than many local governments. Do you have advice for smaller localities?

Before San Francisco I was in El Paso, Texas. The city is about the same size as San Francisco, but the government is significantly smaller. And what I would tell you is those small jurisdictions should use the agility that comes with being smaller to their advantage. They have the ability to experiment and move much faster than some of us larger cities just because they’re more nimble. That’s a huge strength that shouldn’t be underestimated.

I would also say they should partner, partner with cities like New York, San Francisco or other big cities to share those different advantages. If I have resources and a smaller city has agility, that would be a pretty dynamic relationship. We could jointly develop some technologies that could be tested or implemented more quickly in a smaller jurisdiction, and then I can promote that success in a larger setting like New York.

In New York specifically, do you have any projects coming up that you’re excited about?

We’re making a lot of progress on our broadband plan. I think very soon we will have some things to begin sharing in that arena.

And we’re also thinking about how to engage with the breakthrough technologies, how to take a seat at the table with disruptive technologies so that we can understand what’s coming and to better prepare and influence how those technologies are shaped.

So far the direction we’re headed is more exciting than the typical innovation lab; it is going to be focused on tangible engagements and experiments. We’ll likely be sharing some information publically on that soon.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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