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‘Giganomics’ Looks to Tech Entrepreneurship in Kansas City as New Model for Economic Development

TINLEY PARK, ILLINOIS, November 8, 2013 – There is a new holy grail in economic development, and it isn’t land use, tax policy, or cheap energy costs. In a word, it’s Giganomics.

The term was coined by David Sandel, President of the Gigabit Communities and Smart Cities consultancy, at the Broadband Communities Economic Development Summit here on Thursday. Giganomics refers to the process of using Gigabit Networks, or super-fast fiber-optic broadband connections, as the prime tool for entrepreneur-led economic development.

David Sandel, President of Gigabit Communities and Smart Cities, Sandel and Associates, leads a discussion at the Broadband Communities Economic Development Summit. To the right is Steve Fennel, Director of telecom outreach at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and Rick Usher, Assistant City Manager for Kansas City, Missouri.

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Drew Clark

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TINLEY PARK, ILLINOIS, November 8, 2013 – There is a new holy grail in economic development, and it isn’t land use, tax policy, or cheap energy costs. In a word, it’s Giganomics.

The term was coined by David Sandel, President of the Gigabit Communities and Smart Cities consultancy, at the Broadband Communities Economic Development Summit here on Thursday. Giganomics refers to the process of using Gigabit Networks, or super-fast fiber-optic broadband connections, as the prime tool for entrepreneur-led economic development.

David Sandel, President of Gigabit Communities and Smart Cities, Sandel and Associates, leads a discussion at the Broadband Communities Economic Development Summit. To the right is Steve Fennel, Director of telecom outreach at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and Rick Usher, Assistant City Manager for Kansas City, Missouri.

The chief exhibit for Giganomics is Kansas City, selected by internet search giant Google for its first Gigabit Network. Judging by the enthusiasm and energy voiced on a panel of Kansas City experts assembled here by Sandel, Giganomics is working.

In addition to the rapid pace in the direct construction of Google’s fiber network, tens of thousands of new jobs in Kansas City can be attributed to the new Gigabit Network, panelists said.

Equally important are hundreds of techies relocating to Kansas City, bringing a vitality and energy to the city that hasn’t been seen in decades. They’re starting business and getting funded to do so.

“Over the last 30 years, Kansas City has been a [jobs] exporter to the coasts, to Chicago, and to Denver,” said Mike Burke, co-chair of the Mayor’s Bi-state Innovation Team, which got Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas to cooperate on economic development. “We are seeing those young people coming back.

“It is good for the future of Kansas City,” he said. “We are in a worldwide competition for cities to grow, nurture, keep and steal talent in the next decade.”

By the end of the year, Google Fiber’s Gigabit Network in the two Kansas Cities is poised to pass 160,000 homes, said Rick Usher, Assistant City Manager for Kansas City, Missouri. Usher showed slides demonstrating the rapid pace of Google’s structure. All told, 1,000 employees, three contractors, and 50 subcontractors from 17 states are working on the fiber build, he said.

In addition to its announced plans to build a Gigabit Network in Austin, Texas; and its purchase of the iProvo fiber network in Provo, Utah; Google has committed to building its fiber network in 19 cities in the Kansas City metropolitan area. That’s about half of the 2 million homes in the region, said Sandel.

One of the most innovative aspects of Google’s Gigabit Network is the creation of the concept of a “fiberhood” — a distinct geographical area poised to receive the super-fast connectivity. Dividing the 19 cities in the Kansas City region up into “fiberhoods” has enabled a healthy competition among neighborhoods for pre-commitments to purchase Google’s service.

Now, in the neighborhoods to get a Gigabit, there are also “fiberhouses,” or homes for hackers. The vibrant tech community has breathed civic life into the city and has become “a talent attractor and retainer,” said Usher. “Young people that don’t have ties to their communities are jumping on a plane to Kansas City and living in a fiberhouse.”

Burke, an attorney whose career has been focused on real estate development, said that dizzying pace of the last 18 months prompted a light bulb in him to go off. He said that in an era of Giganomics, the old economic development tools don’t work.

“Tax breaks, tax abatements, tax-increment financing: they don’t work for startups,” he said. “We had to invent the tools for startups,” which he said were:

  • Finding free and reduced cost office space
  • Access to venture capital funding
  • Health care, and
  • Data storage.

Finding access to creative venture capital and other means of funding startup activities is a crucial new tool, agreed Aaron Deacon, Managing Director of KC Digital Drive, a community-driven effort to leverage the Gigabit Network for economic developments.

Deacon said that the group’s four top priorities were:

  • Expanding economic opportunities
  • Digital inclusion and digital literacy
  • Next-generation application development
  • Interacting with the leadership of other Gigabit cities.

Deacon cited the cities’ “Digital Sandbox,” a proof of concept incubator which had played a role in birthing 27 companies — with 15 more on top for the next six months. The sandbox received $1 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce, he said.

 

Aaron Deacon of KC Digital Drive, and Mike Burke, of the Kansas City Mayors’ Bi-State Innovation Team, at the Broadband Communities Economic Development Summit

He also said that an effort in providing low-cost office space, a separate group called KC Startup Village had provided office space for about 30 startup businesses.

In attempt to quantify what this kind of entrepreneurial activity has on economic development, Deacon speculated, “You have a couple hundred people working in these, some of which have moved to Kansas City [to start their businesses.]

“Some of them will be successful, some will not,” he said. Among those that fail, he said, “some will stay, and go to work for other companies. It is hard to measure the impact of those 200 people” — but Deacon believes that it is substantial.

Additionally, Deacon cited recent investments in new startups: $6 million in mobile search application Leap 2, and $500,000 in Hoopla.io, an event marketing and syndication platform.

Also on the economic development front, Burke cited health care software company’s Cerner Enterprises’ decision to purchase 237 acres to build a new campus that would employ up to 15,000 people in Kansas City.

In fitting with the “Giganomics” theme of the panel, this more conventional jobs announcement was, in this discussion, almost greeted as an afterthought.

Drew Clark, Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com, tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, broadband usage, the universal service fund, and wireless spectrum policy, at http://twitter.com/broadbandcensus. Nationally recognized for his knowledge on telecommunications law and policy, Clark brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband: job creation, telemedicine, online learning, public safety, the smart grid, eGovernment, and family connectedness. Clark is also available on Google+ and Twitter.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

Digital Inclusion

Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events

Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.

Tim White

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Photo of GHS co-founder Victor Zonana, left, from Global Health New Zealand

April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.

Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.

The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.

“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.

Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.

Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.

Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.

Broadband central to digital activities

“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.

President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”

Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.

“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”

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Education

Libraries Must Be Vigilant To Ensure Adequate Broadband, Consultants Say

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Stephanie Stenberg via Internet2

April 7, 2021 – Libraries should monitor their broadband speeds and ensure they are getting quality connections, according to library consultants.

Carson Block from Carson Block Consulting and Stephanie Stenberg of the Internet2 Community Anchor program told a virtual conference hosted by the American Library Association on Tuesday that it’s time libraries take a closer look at how they are getting broadband and if they are getting the speeds they are paying for. If not, they said they should re-negotiate.

Block and Stenberg shared details about the “Towards Gigabit Libraries” (TGL) toolkit, a free, self-service guide for rural and tribal libraries to better understand and improve their broadband. The new toolkit helps libraries prepare for E-Rate internet subsidy requests to aid their budget cycles.

It also has tips about communicating effectively between library and tech people since there is a gap in knowledge between those two groups. The TGL is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Gigabit Libraries and Beyond (GLG) to improve the toolkit and expand throughout the United States. In addition to focusing on rural and tribal libraries, now urban libraries will be included for support.

During the event, a live poll showed all participating attendees said they “very infrequently” had technical IT support available in their home libraries. Stenberg said this confirmed TGL’s findings that libraries need more tech and IT support, as the majority of respondents in previous surveys gave similar concerning results.

To really emphasize the need for adequate broadband and support at libraries, another question was asked to live attendees about their current level of expertise around procuring and delivering access to broadband as a service in their library, assuming that the majority of attendees worked for libraries. All participants said they possess “no experience” trying to get broadband in the library.

Common issues that are to blame include libraries with insufficient bandwidth, data wiring or poorly set-up networks. Old and obsolete equipment also contributed to bad Wi-Fi coverage.

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Education

Schools And Libraries Look For Solutions With $7 Billion In Federal Help

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot from SHLB event

April 6, 2021 – In a webinar last week hosted by the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), panelists discussed opportunities schools and libraries have to better serve their communities with the recent $7 billion provided through the American Rescue Plan, a $1.98 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden on last month.

Laura Cole, director at the BiblioTech public library, shared how a successful pilot program with Southwest Independent School District made a goal to provide digital access to 100 students. To date, 62 students had broadband installed with the remaining still being worked on. The project was done to act as a proof-of-concept for digital connection expansion in Bexar County, Texas, where broadband access rates are low. Though the program’s success has caused it to be extended through December 31, 2021, Cole said she recognizes that there needs to be a more permanent solution to close the digital divide in all areas where people lack internet.

At the Brooklyn Public Library in New York City, Selvon Smith, president of information technology and chief information officer at the library, said that collaborative programs with the New York Public Library, Queens Public Library, and the New York City Department of Education were able to provide thousands of free hotspot devices for the entire school year to under-connected people. The organizations created a “Bookmobile Wi-Fi” program that was comprised of three vans and one truck stocked with laptops and outfitted with Wi-Fi antennas.

And it’s not just libraries that benefitted from the $7 billion provided through the American Rescue Plan. Rajesh Adusumilli, assistant superintendent for information services at Arlington County public schools (APS), said his organization worked to address student connectivity needs throughout the pandemic. The rollout of the 1-2-3 Connect Me pilot program was a core part along with maintaining Comcast’s Internet Essentials Program sponsorship and continuing to provide devices and wireless access hotspots at Arlington’s public schools.

This pilot program was financed by the Virginia governor’s Fasttrack Broadband Funding program, and is an extension of broadband services off of the APS and county-owned fiber network.

It uses technology on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum band, which has allowed private networks solely meant for students. It allows for students to connect to the APS network from home so they can continue distance learning instruction and access APS resources. It also can save money as it does not require the county to build additional fiber to create the extension.

Now, all Arlington Public Schools are set up with wireless access, with 99.2 percent of all APS students having participated successfully in synchronous learning activities.

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