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Collaborative Smart City Pilots Show Promise in Improving Internet Access



Photo of Gov. Mike DeWine by the U.S. Department of Justice used with permission

May 21, 2020 — The implementation of smart technologies may be a key in solving economic challenges at the regional level, said panelists in a BroadbandUSA webinar Wednesday.

The webinar focused on how smart city initiatives could improve sustainability and quality of life, including broadband access, featuring panelists from the Global City Teams Challenge Smart Regions Collaborative, such as Dominic Papa, vice president of the Smart States Initiative for the Arizona Commerce Authority.

“With the rise of COVID, one of the first big challenges that we saw was the inequality of remote education, and students not having the broadband connectivity at home to really download and complete their homework assignments,” Papa said. “Add on the fact that places like Starbucks and our libraries were closed due to the pandemic, it makes it extremely difficult for these students to keep up.”

“We actually saw kids sitting with their backs against the wall of the library, trying to access the internet from the outside in,” he added.

In response, the region formed a partnership with Cisco and announced a new initiative to expand Wi-Fi internet access at state libraries. The proposed solution is being tested at five libraries, Papa said, with the goal of improving the technology and then commercializing and scaling to libraries across the state.

This process of going from pilot to scale has proven difficult in the past, with Papa calling it “the main challenge that we’d really hit on in our region” and citing limited funding and staff as major roadblocks.

The model that has ultimately proven most successful in scaling, he added, is that of bringing several separate jurisdictions together in a consortium comprised of industry leaders, university researchers and greater Phoenix communities.

The consortium collaboratively designs and develops new innovative technology pilots to ensure that all communities in the region have the necessary tools to prosper in the digital age, Papa said.

Bringing technology to the urban environment can have both positive and negative outcomes, said Jonathan Fink, Director of the Digital City Testbed Center, Portland State University.

“We can make resources more accessible and get better health outcomes, which is something we’re focused on quite a bit right now around the world, reduce carbon emissions and so on,” he said. “But the negative aspects of bringing technology into cities are that there are privacy issues, there are questions about monopolization — who owns the data, how equitable is the access to the new services that can be provided?”

In order to evaluate these competing concerns and plan for successful smart city integrations, Fink presented three questions.

First, among all of the options available, how do cities evaluate which technologies are best for their urban environment? Second, how can the general public be involved in asking that same question?

Finally, how does the private sector foster collaboration and align the various components of smart city technology with each other in order to meet the needs of both the cities and the public?

All three of these groups — cities, the general public and the private sector — rely on careful testing and cooperation, Fink said.

Smart region technologies include possibilities for improved mobility, sustainability, education, cybersecurity, agriculture and more, said Mark Fisher, President and CEO of the Council of the Great Lakes Region.

The Great Lakes Region contains a third of the combined workforce of U.S. and Canada, Fisher said. If it were a country, it would have the third largest economy in the world. The scope of the binational region makes the process of demonstrating and scaling smart solutions all the more important.

“A key to this project’s success is being able to leverage and connect to the many strengths and assets that these partners have and really trying to work on these problems in a collective collaborative way,” Fisher said.

The region’s initial pilot project was undertaken was in Defiance, Ohio, which Fisher noted was an ideal location because Gov. Mike DeWine has made goals such as state-wide broadband a top priority.

According to Fisher, the next steps for the region involve vision development, funding procurement and the launch of a webinar series to share best practices.

The region will also attempt to promote and scale the Defiance pilot project by inviting new collaborators and funders to support it.

Reporter Em McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for the student newspaper. In addition to agency and freelance marketing experience, she has reported extensively on Section 230, big tech, and rural broadband access. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer programming skills to underprivileged children.

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Fiber Helps Co-ops to Save on Electric Grid Usage, Saving Money

Fiber can connect city systems to make them more efficient.



Photo of William Davidson of NextEra Infrastructure Solutions, Sachin Gupta of Centranet, William Graves of MidSouth Electric Cooperative, and Pete Hoffswell of Holland Board of Public Works (left to right)

ORLANDO, August 21, 2023 – Fiber networks can reduce operating costs for electric cooperatives as well as connect residents to the internet, said representatives of electric co-ops on a Fiber Connect panel Monday, claiming it is a good investment. 

Broadband networks allow co-ops to share data that keeps them more efficient on the electric grid, said William Graves, fiber optic network manager at MidSouth Electric Cooperative in Texas. 

High-speed broadband connectivity enables the smart grid, a network that allows for two-way communication between the utility and its customers, to ensure that electricity is being managed in the most efficient way, said Graves.  

Pete Hoffswell, superintendent of broadband services at Holland Board of Public Works in Michigan added that fiber can connect city systems – such as parking meters – to avoid backlog that occasionally occurs on less efficient networks.  

Smart infrastructure will be critical as demand for power increases as use-cases continue to grow for electric vehicle charging, smart home technologies, and more, said Hoffswell. He added that connectivity is more than just connecting renewable energy systems, it is now about building a smart city. 

“Smart cities are full of smart people, smart people want their cities to be smart,” he continued. Consumers will make more demands on network providers and this demand will change the way that the networks operate, he said.  

Hoffswell added that investor-owned utilities can cover a huge space in the co-op broadband space. Co-ops have the necessary capital for large broadband projects and are a good match for fiber, he said.   

William Davidson, director of strategic initiatives at NextEra Infrastructure Solutions in Florida, said that providing fiber services to customers provides incremental value to the cooperative. He added that cooperatives have the unique ability to be patient with long-term projects that take years to break even.

Some experts have touted electric co-ops as the ideal grantee for the $42.5 billion BEAD program – which funds are expected in 2024 – because they are well suited to build public owned networks that then can either be operated by the co-op or leased to private providers.  

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Autonomous Vehicles

Lawmakers and Industry Groups Urge Congress Action on Autonomous Vehicles

The legislation encourages the testing and deployment of the technology.



Screenshot of Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers at the hearing Wednesday

WASHINGTON, July 27, 2023 – Witnesses at an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Wednesday joined lawmakers in pushing for congressional action on establishing a comprehensive federal framework for self-driving vehicles, after several years of regulatory stagnation.

In her opening remarks, Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-WA, highlighted the importance of advancing US leadership in the field of autonomous vehicles, which can help drive down traffic fatalities, support people with disabilities, and strengthen US technological competitiveness, particularly over China, she said.

Despite these possibilities, the federal regulatory landscape has not been able to catch up with innovation, said John Bozzella, president of trade group Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

The absence of a national standard has led to “a labyrinth of state laws and regulations” which spurs uncertainty among companies and hampers deployment and innovation, warned Bozzella. To that end, he urged Congress to swiftly pass a bipartisan, “balanced federal AV framework” that includes “safeguards, oversight, rules and regulations” to govern the future of autonomous vehicle technology.

“It’s rare that somebody from the private sector comes to plead for their businesses to be regulated by the federal government, but this is exactly what we are seeking,” he said.

Lawmakers have taken a shot at regulating autonomous vehicles in 2017 with the SELF DRIVE Act introduced by Rep. Robert Latta, R-OH, which would have established a national regulatory framework for automated vehicles and encourage the testing and deployment of the technology. The bill passed both the committee and the House but stalled in the Senate.

That legislation now makes up the bulk of legislation considered during Wednesday hearing, along with another bill drafted by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-MI, to strengthen safety rules regarding automated vehicles and hold manufacturers accountable for adhering to those standards.

“I don’t believe anyone thought we would be back to square one today in 2023, re-examining similar legislation that had previously passed the House unanimously, and that many members of this Committee on both sides cosponsored,” said Innovation, Data and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Gus Bilirakis, R-FL.

Gary Shapiro, president of trade group Consumer Technology Association, said a large number of exemptions should be granted so that companies can start testing new vehicle designs and safety features. Currently, manufacturers are only allowed to deploy up to 2500 vehicles for testing on a temporary basis, a constraint he said would limit the scalability of the technology in the future.

However, Philip Koopman, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University, sounded a cautionary note regarding “overly-permissive” regulations that would allow vehicle manufacturers to “cut corners on safety.” He argued that automated vehicles are not “a silver bullet for safety” because computer drivers do not necessarily make fewer mistakes than human drivers but rather in different ways.

“If we want to still have an automated vehicle industry in the future, Congress needs to act to require transparency, accountability, and adoption of the industry’s own safety standards,” he said.

The hearing took place against a backdrop of growing dissatisfaction among industry groups and AV advocates regarding the slow-paced regulatory process for driverless transportation technology. Government officials explained that taking time for regulation is necessary to ensure public safety.

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Advanced Energy

Greater Private Investments Will Supplement Federal Dollars Expended in Build America Initiative

Private investments need to support federal money going to infrastructure projects across the United States.



Photo of Jigar Shah of the Department of Energy

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2023 – American investments in its domestic manufacturing must be accompanied by private investment and ambition, said the director of the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office Jigar Shah a a Thursday event by nonprofit newsroom Canary Media. 

Currently, private companies are not interested in financing manufacturing loans in the U.S., said Shah. He urged the private industry to show more ambition by investing in infrastructure programs as federal investments come down the pipeline. 

Don’t miss the discussion of the connection between green energy, semiconductor manufacturing and infrastructure investment at Broadband Breakfast’s Made in America Summit on June 27.

The Build America Buy America Act, strengthened as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, requires that all iron, steel, manufactured products and construction materials used in federally funded projects to be produced in the U.S.

Additionally, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 which invests $400 billion in federal funding to clean energy and the CHIPS and Science Act which invests $280 billion into U.S. domestic semiconductor manufacturing. Semiconductors are the microprocessors that power all electronic applications. 

These investments, paired with the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which invests in various American infrastructure projects, play a central role in the administration’s strategy to revitalize the American industry. They invest in a more sustainable, consistent, and dependable supply chain for the U.S. economy, said Shah. 

Investing in American manufacturing will increase investor confidence that the U.S. is capable of large manufacturing projects, he added. 

By passing these acts, Congress has moved forward to improve American manufacturing, said Shah. It is now up to private industry to make the most of these investments and reinvent themselves to improve American global competitiveness. 

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