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.
Digital Inclusion Leaders a Critical Step to Closing Digital Divide: National League of Cities
The National League of Cities said government leaders need to have ‘multiple points of engagement’ with communities.
WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – To understand the digital divide, cities need to include digital equity leaders in their broadband needs assessment programs, the National League of Cities said at an event on community connectivity challenges Wednesday.
A broadband needs assessment would allow city leaders to explore the extent of the digital divide in their communities, said Lena Geraghty, the National League of Cities’ director of urban innovation.
“[A needs assessment] enable city leaders to dig into who’s being excluded, what’s currently available in your city, and what solutions city leaders can use” to close the digital divide, she said.
“The community is going to know best about where access exists, where gaps exist, and the needs that will make connectivity better,” Geraghty said. To get the best picture of a community’s need, stakeholders must find and include the community’s digital equity leaders in the data-gathering process, she added.
“These could be people that are knowledgeable about digital equity or people that are experiencing the digital divide,” she said. “Think really broadly about what it means to be a leader and the type of information these folks can bring to bear in solving the digital divide in your communities.”
Geraghty said it may be useful to formalize the leaders’ work by creating a broadband working group or ad hoc committee led by the city’s government. “Giving some roles and responsibilities can help everyone move in the same in direction, there’s agreement, and really clear goals and outcomes.”
Geraghty added that it’s important for government leaders to establish multiple points of engagement for the community. “It’s not enough to gather data or information from people once,” she said. “The state of access to the internet and devices is always changing,” so leaders should create multiple touch points for community input.
The National League of Cities released its Digital Equity Playbook for cities in December, walking readers through how they can promote digital equity in their cities. The playbook has a four-step process on how to get started with digital equity.
By walking readers through the process of connecting with the community, evaluating the connectivity landscape, gathering foundational information and reporting on findings, city leaders will be prepared to target broadband funding to unserved and underserved areas in their communities.
FCC Commissioner Starks Says Commission Looking into Impact of Broadband, 5G on Environment
Starks sat down to discuss the promise of smart grid technology for the environment.
WASHINGTON, January 19, 2022 – Former and current leaders within the Federal Communications Commission agreed Thursday that it is important to make sure the FCC’s broadband efforts support the nation’s goals for the environment.
On Thursday, during a Cooley law firm fireside chat event, Robert McDowell, a former FCC director, and current FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks discussed how broadband expansion and next-generation 5G mobile networks will affect the environment.
Starks said that the commission is currently focusing on answering that exact question and are evaluating the current attempts to protect the environment, as more money is expected from the federal government and as broadband infrastructure expands. That includes putting more fiber into the ground and erecting more cell towers, but also allowing for a broadband-enabled smart grid system that will make automated decisions on energy allocation.
Smart grid systems, for example, provide real-time monitoring of the energy used in the electrical system. These systems can help to reduce consumption and carbon emissions, Starks said, by rerouting excess power and addressing power outages instantaneously in the most efficient and environmentally friendly manner. The smart grid systems will monitor “broadband systems in the 900 MHz band,” said Starks.
Starks also noted the Senate’s “Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation” initiative, which would set apart $500 million for cities across America so they can begin working on ways to lower carbon emissions.
FCC also focused on digital discrimination
Starks said the commission is also focusing on “making sure that there is no digital discrimination on income level, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin,” and that it all comes down to funding and who needs the money.
He stated that the first step is to finalize the maps and data that have been collected so funding can be targeted to the areas and people that need it the most. Many have remarked that the $65 billion allocated to broadband from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will not be divvied out until adequate maps are put in place.
Starks noted that broadband subsidy program Lifeline, although fundamental to some people’s lives, is significantly underutilized. Starks stated that participation rates hover around 20 percent, which led the FCC to explore other options while attempting to make Lifeline more effective. For example, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – which provides monthly broadband subsidies – has been replaced by the Affordable Connectivity Program, a long-term and revised edition of the pandemic-era program.
Starks and McDowell also stated their support for the confirmation by the Senate of Alan Davidson as the permanent head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and expressed that Davidson will be a key player in these efforts.
CES 2022: Public-Private Partnerships Key to Building Smart Cities, Tech leaders Say
Public-private partnerships will increase the community benefit of infrastructure projects, leaders at Qualcomm and Verizon said.
LAS VEGAS, January 12, 2022––Telecommunications industry leaders said Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show that public-private partnerships will pave the way to realizing the future of smart cities.
Raymond Bauer, director of the domain specialist group that connects governments to Verizon’s telecommunications services, said the government needs private partners to improve its infrastructure efforts.
Referencing the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Bauer said governments should look forward to partnering with private technology companies to improve upcoming infrastructure projects.
“There’s a once in a lifetime opportunity from IIJA,” Bauer said. “We should find common ways to work in a way we haven’t in the past. There are certain goals and use cases to leverage the infrastructure we have,” he said.
The $1.2 trillion bipartisan legislation funds physical and digital infrastructure projects, including $65 billion for the expansion of broadband across the country.
Bauer said communities have a chance to monetize the services Verizon offers to communities if Verizon builds infrastructure for broadband access in underserved areas. “By bridging the digital divide, underserved communities get the services they need,” he added.
Ashok Tipirneni, head of smart cities and connected spaces at Qualcomm, said that cities should be thinking about how technology can improve much-needed infrastructure projects.
“Cities are growing faster than available utility,” he said, citing global issues of housing, water, and equity for vulnerable populations. “How do we ensure access for all citizens? And how can cities be in lock step with new technology, whatever it is?” he asked.
Qualcomm’s Smart Cities Accelerator Program delivers internet of things ecosystem products and services to member cities and local governments.
“New Orleans, Miami, and Los Angeles has local governments asking how they can do better,” he said. “They offer opportunities for partnerships that wouldn’t have been the case a few years ago.”
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