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Smarter Cities Need Better Broadband to Realize Their Networking Potential

in Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/Smart Grid by

September 19, 2011 – America’s unique concept of federalism – joint sovereignty between the states and the federal government – sometimes obscures some on-the-ground realities when it comes to the all-important topic of economic growth and development. The simple fact is that cities serve as the engine of life, commerce, culture and sociality.

What makes cities so important is the role they play in spurring connections and social networks. In the most recent edition of the Atlantic Monthly, Richard Florida argues that:

Cities are our greatest invention, not because of the scale of their infrastructure or their placement along key trade routes, but because they enable human beings to combine and recombine their talents and ideas in new ways. With their breadth of skills, dense social networks, and physical spaces for interactions, great cities and metro areas push people together and increase the kinetic energy between them.

In other words, we need to stop thinking of cities as the locus of industrial-age manufacturing (let alone agricultural trading spots), but as a place where people exchange information and ideas. No doubt Jane Jacobs would approve. Her book of 50 years ago, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, critiqued the rationalist urban planning with its strict separation of industrial, residential and commercial uses. (For a 2003 interview of Jane Jacobs on the role of technologies in cities, please see this link. Jacobs died in 2006.)

Cities have become much more livable over the past generation. I’ll leave it for experts to debate whether this is through the ascendency of Jacobs’ ideas, the ability of big cities to curb high crime rates, or through larger secular or demographic trends.

What we see now, however, is the emergence of the “Smart City.” Although smart cities mean different things to different people, there are a couple of core ideas behind these theme:

  • Intelligent traffic management and infrastructure improvements
  • Energy-efficient buildings
  • Interactive information sharing, including open data repositories
  • “Smart grid” usage by electric utilities

Many major cities – New York, Chicago, Toronto and others – are seeking to promote the concept, and many computing and bandwidth companies are promoting the concept. For example, IBM has launched the “Smarter Cities Challenge,” a competitive grant program to enable 100 world-wide cities to become more vibrant and livable places for citizens. See http://smartercitieschallenge.org/about.html.

When I watch the advertisements, or read the materials, that cities and companies are promoting around “Smart Cities,” I inevitably think: but what about broadband?

What are cities doing to ensure that the infrastructure builds are accompanied by fiber-optic wires, or ensuring that the “smart grid” is fully enabled through high-bandwidth connectivity, or that businesses and broadband centers have truly robust broadband capacity?

At the BroadbandBreakfast.com, we’re particularly interested in fostering debate around the question of broadband – and the role that high-speed internet is playing in promoting the economy, society and the purposes articulated in the National Broadband Plan.

Tomorrow, at the Broadband Breakfast Club event on September 20, 2011, at 8 a.m., we’ll engage on this subject. The discussion will feature Gale Brewer, a New York City Councilmember who has been one of the country’s leading advocates of better broadband. Gail has represented the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and currently chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, where she has worked to make better use of technology to save money, improve city services, and bring residents, businesses and non-profits closer to government and their communities.

Gale Brewer will keynote this event, which is titled, “Making Cities of the Future Smarter Through Broadband.”

Another panelist on the program is Elise Kohn, Program Director for the University Community Next Generation Innovation Project, which is better known as “GigU.” GigU is one of the brain-children of Blair Levin, the former direction of the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan, and an innovative way to bridge the town-gown divide through super-fast connectivity.

Also on the program is Benjamin Lennett, Policy Director, Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, which has been actively involved in a number of broadband-related projects in urban areas, including Philadelphia and Detroit. Lennett will be able to speak to innovative approaches to broadband.

Sarah Williams, Director, Spatial Information Design Lab, Columbia University, will also participate. Sarah’s research focuses on the representation of digital information/mapping and ecological design & planning. Previously, she started the Geographic Information System (GIS) Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and also worked with the West Philadelphia Landscape Project and the Philadelphia Water Department.

Don’t miss this important discussion on “Making Cities of the Future Smarter through Broadband.” Registration is available at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com. The Broadband Breakfast Club is sponsored by Comcast, Google, ICF International, Intel, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and the Telecommunications Industry Association. Also see the 2011-2012 program of the Broadband Breakfast Club series.

AT&T to Expand Wi-Fi Network

in Mobile Broadband/Press Releases/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2010 – Telecom giant AT&T may have angered many of its customers last week by announcing the end to its unlimited mobile broadband plan but it has tried to temper this by expanding its Wi-Fi network.  It has chosen to setup a pilot location in New York City’s Times Square. The firm plans to add increased Wi-Fi support to high traffic and high population areas. These new “hotzones” will be available to all current AT&T customers.

AT&T chief technology officer John Donovan said “With this pilot AT&T Wi-Fi hotzone, we’re examining new ways to combine our Wi-Fi and 3G networks to help ensure that AT&T customers in Times Square always have a fast mobile broadband connection to do what matters most to them. It’s another example of how AT&T is exploring the ideal blend of technologies to maximize the mobile experience for our customers in New York City.”

Los Angeles, New York Win $29 Million in Broadband Grants

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/National Broadband Plan/States by

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2010 – The Commerce Department announced broadband investments totaling more than $29 million in two of the nation’s largest urban cities – New York and Los Angeles.

The grants will fund computer training and provide about 30,000 computers to middle school students and their families with an eye on boosting their online access to educational, employment and health information.

New York’s NYC Connected Learning project plans to provide computer training, desktop computers, educational software and free broadband access for one year to more than 18,000 low-income sixth graders and their families in 100 public middle schools in New York City.

Non-profit Computers for Youth will conduct computer training for parents and students in English, Spanish and other languages. The Commerce Department anticipates that as a result of this project, more than 12,000 households will subscribe to broadband beyond the free year-long subscription period.

In California, Computers for Youth will partner with the Los Angeles Unified School District to increase broadband technology awareness, aid students and increase family involvement in their children’s education through computer and Internet tools, according to the Commerce Department.

The project will provide 15,000 sixth-grade students and their families with computer training, after which they will receive a refurbished computer with educational software. Approximately 8,000 households are anticipated to become new broadband subscribers thanks to the project.

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