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Connected Life Exchange

By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist

We talk a lot about how broadband could boost a nation’s economic competitiveness, but it’s equally true that broadband can raise the future prospects of cities and towns as well.

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a New York City-based group “dedicated to economic growth in the broadband community for communities large and small,” has been designating seven “intelligent communities of the year” since 2002. Winners since that year have been on every settled continent except Africa, and include names you might expect (Seoul, South Korea) and names you wouldn’t (Tallinn, Estonia).

Earlier in June, it named this year’s award winners. On the list were two previous winners — Eindhoven and Issy-les-Moulineux, France — and some surprises, including Chattanooga, Tennessee and Dublin, Ohio.

Here’s a look at which municipalities won the accolades and why (in alphabetical order):

Chattanooga, Tennessee, U.S. -- All 170,000 businesses and homes within the service area of the local utility, the Electric Power Board (EPB), receive 1 gigabit-per-second symmetrical broadband — by accident. The utility deployed a fiber-optic network to support smart meters for real-time data usage. The available Internet, voice, and television service is an ancillary advantage.

Dublin, Ohio, U.S. - The DubLink fiber network was designed to serve both the public and private sectors. According to the ICF, “the city delivers no services except for governmental use, and leases either conduit space or its own dark fiber to carriers serving the local market.” This is known as an “open access” strategy, which other ICF winners also use. A Wi-Fi network covers downtown and will soon extend throughout the city. The city’s public safety crews rely on the network for emergencies, monitoring of snow plow fleets, and video monitoring of traffic.

Eindhoven, The Netherlands. -- A previous winner, Eindhoven won again thanks to its Non-profit Eindhoven Fiber eXchange Foundation, which was established to interconnect service providers throughout the region. In 2010, eight of the region’s 21 municipalities set up a €2.4m fund to create a virtual regional network made up of interconnected service providers. In three months, 97% of the citizens of the nearby village of Neunen signed up for fiber connectivity, even though they had to pay for the “last mile” connection from the network to their property. The result is a closer community, with clubs, societies, and churches posting video of meetings, events, and weddings.

Issy-les-Moulineaux, France. -- Also a previous winner, Issy became the first city in France to offer businesses a choice of carriers after state-owned France Telecom lost its telecom monopoly. The city, across the Seine from Paris, now offers six alternative broadband networks. The city also operates a network of 100 Wi-Fi access points, with speeds up to 20 Mbps, around the city. Some 85% of Issy’s 35,000 households have broadband connections, compared with the French average of 70%.

Riverside, California. -- A mix of Wi-Fi, coaxial, and fiber services covers the city, allowing the municipal government to lower its cost of doing business with a variety of programs. The city uses Wi-Fi for video monitoring and to control train crossing and stoplights at more than 30 intersections from the city’s Traffic Management Center. Doing so also allows traffic controllers to adjust traffic flows for trains in transit and downtown events, which reducing average commuter time by up to 30%. The same network streams video to police cars, so that officers can access surveillance cameras placed in high-crime areas.

Stratford, Ontario. -- As with Chattanooga, Stratford’s fiber network connects smart meters installed at 18,000 homes and commercial sites. But it also offers 1 Gbps connections to 125 locations within the city, as well as the backbone for 300 Wi-Fi hubs. Thanks to the network, the city has cut C$60,000 from its annual phone bills by switching employees from mobile phones to WiFi devices. A provincial connection program, funded by Ontario, has make broadband available to 99.9% of the surrounding rural areas.

Windsor-Essex, Ontario. Just across the Detroit River from America’s auto capital, Windsor-Essex was also deeply invested in the auto industry. Realizing that it both needed to diversify its industry and to support that diversification with broadband, it worked with a local cable company to create a fiber network delivering 1 Gbps-capable links to 200 sites, including schools, libraries and government buildings throughout the area. As with Stratford, the provincial connection program serves the outlying areas.

Based on the descriptions of efforts in cities on this year’s ICF list, a successful municipal deployment requires focus, patience, and sometimes, maybe a little luck. Are these infrastructure investment strategies a smart choice? What do you think are the best criteria for designating a municipality as an Intelligent Community?

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