By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist
Lou Zacharilla, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, has a foolproof way of identifying which cities are most likely to be successful deploying broadband networks: business cards.
The ones who do well at broadband, he says, are the ones whose municipal employees collaborate across departmental boundaries, and with elected officials.
“If I go into a city to give a presentation, it’s usually in a large conference room. I can always tell who’s already collaborating, because they’re not exchanging business cards. They already know each other.”
In January, the ICF identified the top seven municipalities in the world (determined by a team of academic experts) for broadband deployment:
- Columbus, USA: The capital of Ohio has led the state in job creation over the past decade, adding 15,000 net new jobs. Its manufacturing productivity has increased 43% per employee and the region has added jobs in advanced manufacturing, automation, electronics, robotics and industrial design.
- Oulu, Finland: Oulu has created 18,000 new high-tech jobs since 2007. It has also built ICT assets such as a city-wide free wireless network and an e-government Web portal for citizens. It has also helped create a variety of research-and-development facilities focusing on a wide range of new technologies.
- Stratford, Canada: The slump in the auto industry took unemployment to 7.9 per cent. But the city replaced 1,600 low-skilled manufacturing jobs with 700 jobs requiring ICT skills, and the auto industry’s revival has created demand for higher-skilled manufacturing jobs.
- Taichung City, Taiwan: To aid small companies in its manufacturing-focused economy, the city supported a shared, cloud-based ERP system that reduces purchasing costs and time-to-market. It also deployed an RFID system at its port to automate logistics, clearing of shipping containers quickly and reducing the time trucks spend idling.
- Tallinn, Estonia: To support local startups, Tallinn, along with local businesses and educational institutions, launched multiple incubators targeting creative services, medical and biotech, mechatronics and ICT.
- Taoyuan County, Taiwan: The county deployed a new e-learning portal for its citizens to educate themselves on new technologies in a customized manner. It supports business and universities in their efforts toward fundamental research and commercialization of new developments. The county has also built an open-access conduit network for private carriers as well as a chain of Wi-Fi hotspots.
- Toronto, Canada: Among several other efforts, the city has developed North America’s largest urban renewal project, served by a 1 Gbps fiber-to-the-premise network.
The winners represent a wide range of geographies, but they all have one thing in common, according to Zacharilla: “The elected officials and employees work together toward a common purpose, which is building an intelligent community. They understand that the stakes for the future – building an economical infrastructure for these cities to persist.”
Committed to Deploying Broadband with Creativity
Other characteristics of several of the cities on the list, according to Zacharilla: they were creative or committed, or both. Tallinn, for instance, which has appeared on the ICF’s list in previous years, was particularly hard-hit by the recent economic downturn. But they continued to invest in infrastructure, expanding doubling funds for educational institutions and their underlying network, he says. It also invested in business clusters focusing on specific industries – health, mechatronics – which now hold 250 companies “that weren’t there a couple of years ago.”
On the creative side, Zacharilla cites Stratford, Ontario. “It’s been doing creative work for a long time. It’s a small city that has to punch above its weight.” It’s worked to apply digitization to everything it does, from its annual Shakespeare festival to luring companies focusing on technological and digital content. Mayor Dan Mathieson has also made the offer to global companies to use the city as a beta-test site for technology. “He’s made the city a laboratory, and companies like Toshiba are experimenting with smart lighting. He has a why-not attitude, and the city as a whole has a lot of energy.”
Getting Better at Broadband
What should other cities do to get better at broadband? In response, Zacharilla quotes the Roman philosopher Virgil: “They can because they think they can. Try. It’s that simple.”
He suggests completing the ICF nomination form. “It’s a good self-test, to see how you do.” He also suggests getting together with other CIOs who are tackling the same issues to hear their stories.
“At the annual ICF conference, you hear a lot of stories, and that helps convince communities that they can tackle broadband,” says Zacharilla. There needs to be a belief system, an attitude, he insists, “and technology can’t help with that.”
The ICF Summit, an international gathering of mayors, chief administrative officers, chief information officers and economic development officers from cities, states and regions around the world, will take place in New York City June 5-7, 2013.