Ten years ago, San Francisco was the undisputed epicenter for high-tech innovation in the United States. Time after time, Bay Area startups like Facebook and Uber have continued to reaffirm that title through their revolutionary products and industry-changing platforms. But New York City has also seen major growth in the tech sector, affectionately gaining new monikers like “New Tech City” and “Silicon Alley”.
What exactly is it that’s drawing so much technological innovation – and so many high-tech startups – to New York City? While factors like last decade’s financial crisis and the widespread adoption of technology in non-tech industries are undoubtedly helping increase NYC’s popularity among cutting-edge businesses, there’s one big difference between Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley that isn’t getting very much attention – the vastly different internet infrastructures present in each city.
The Impact of Cable Placement
One of the biggest differences is the way in which businesses are connected to the internet. In New York City, telecommunications cables are all run underground. Conversely, in the more spread out suburban areas of Silicon Valley, you’ll find a greater prevalence of above-ground cabling. At first glance this may not seem very important, but when reliable connectivity is crucial to your business, it deserves your attention.
First and foremost, lines run above ground are much more susceptible to damage from high winds, tree branches, and a variety other external factors. In other words, it’s easier for something to go wrong and disrupt your business’ connectivity. There is a silver lining though – when issues do arise with above-ground cables, they can normally be resolved within a matter of hours thanks to the ease of accessibility.
Although underground cables are better protected from harm, service outages often last longer, commonly requiring streets and sidewalks to be closed off, dug up, and put out of commission for days at a time – a costly process in both construction costs and lost revenue. Underground cabling also makes it more expensive to upgrade older buildings with modern infrastructure. According to Ingrid Burrington, connectivity expert and author of Networks of New York: An Internet Infrastructure Field Guide, “New York’s network infrastructure is a lot like the city itself: messy, sprawling, and at times near-incomprehensible.” Luckily, cutting-edge technologies like micro-trenching are helping to mitigate that.
Worldwide Connectivity Hubs
Another big difference between the two cities is the number of nearby transoceanic submarine cables. Submarine cables run along the ocean floor and are at the very core of worldwide connectivity. The initial transatlantic submarine cable was run between North America and Europe by the Atlantic Telegraph Company in 1858, with the first permanent line being installed in 1866. Today, the Submarine Cable Map maintained by telecommunication research firm TeleGeography highlights a total of 339 major submarine cables around the world.
The New York and New Jersey area is home to the majority of lines that connect the United States to Europe, as well as cables connecting with the Caribbean and South America. The only other east coast location with a rival number of major submarine lines is South Florida, which serves as the primary connection between the United States and the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
Despite San Francisco being a major technology hub, most transcontinental submarine cables on the west coast connect either in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, or in the Pacific Northwest around Portland and Seattle. With a latency of around one millisecond per three-hundred meters of fiber optic cable, the average commercial user won’t notice a difference in location. But for sensitive enterprise applications, being close to international submarine cables can be pretty high on the site selection checklist. This will have the biggest impact on trading desks and other businesses in which a split-second faster connection can make a world of difference.
Government Initiatives Driving Infrastructure Improvement
Some experts might say that comparing New York City’s internet infrastructure to San Francisco’s is a lot like apples and oranges, which may not be too far from the truth. Both areas have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses for connectivity-dependent tech business. But luckily, the governments in each city are busy addressing the opportunities facing their respective infrastructures.
Through its TechConnect and SF Digital Inclusion initiatives, the City of San Francisco is working to ensure high-speed internet access is available to residents throughout the entire Bay Area, and not just in the region’s current high-tech hotspots.
New York, on the other hand, has been taking a more aggressive approach to improving connectivity for business users, actively working to attract more startup and tech-dependent companies to the area. One such initiative was ConnectNYC, a popular program which ran for two years and helped cover the costs of fiber installation for small-to-medium companies with fewer than five-hundred employees.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation’s hugely popular WiredScore initiative is another example of how the local government is trying to help area tech businesses succeed in today’s digital marketplace. Through the creation of the Wired Certification, companies searching for space can identify properties that have met rigorous standards for connectivity, as well as those who have attained the coveted Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum certifications which identify the buildings that are equipped to meet the needs of even the most demanding high-tech tenants.
While Silicon Valley has long been considered the tech capital of the United States, New York City is no longer hiding in its shadow. Today, countless technology-focused companies of all sizes call New York home thanks to the ever-improving infrastructure and reliable, high-speed connectivity throughout all five boroughs, as well as the plethora of government initiatives dedicated to making the title of Silicon Alley synonymous with The Big Apple.