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People at the Center of Public Policy: The Network as a Platform for Participatory Democracy

Last Friday I spoke at the Metropolis World Congress in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where leaders from the private sector, public sector and NGOs are gathered together to discuss new models and strategies for architecting and running cities around the world. The delegates to this event include mayors from cities like Porto Alegre, Barcelona, Bogota, Rosario, and others that are taking their cities through major transformations and helping to define successful models for urban innovation and revitalization. Through all of these stories, one theme emerges: the concept of participatory democracy, or how citizens around the world are co-creating solutions with government, that will help solve the challenges facing us this century.

The economic and political events of the last few years and the continued challenging circumstances still facing us today have in many ways contributed to this new paradigm; necessity is the mother of invention. But the initial steps started a few years ago by a handful of cities have borne a larger movement, and one that promises to change the very way in which citizens interact with their communities and live their lives. Just as people started to produce their own content through social media channels, eschewing the passive consumption of information distributed from centralized powers, citizens pursuing active engagement in the public realm will foment a new public system, one in which citizens are the innovators and enablers of public sector services – and the public sector becomes the orchestrator of innovation.  And we’re not far off from that concept becoming a reality.

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How to Solve the Wireless Spectrum Puzzle

By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist

An interesting battle over unlicensed wireless communication spectrum has been brewing in the U.S. over the last few weeks, one that pits advocates of open public access against advocates of licensing and private control.

Here are the highlights of the ongoing debate. In September, the FCC approved a spectrum test that could ultimately promulgate access using the white space between television channels. This method, known as “super Wi-Fi,” is said to allow the signal to travel further and still accommodate structural barriers. The test ran in Lake Mary, Fla., and concluded early in November. However, the FCC has not yet released results.

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Why Rural Broadband Access Matters

By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist

Countries blessed and cursed with wide-open spaces continue to wrestle with the question of how to serve rural areas with broadband infrastructure. In Australia, naysayers question the viability of its National Broadband Network.

In the United States, the stimulus package included some $3.5 billion for rural development, but based on progress reports from officials at the Department of Agriculture, the broadband deployment only addressed a small portion of the demand.

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A Vision of Interconnected Knowledge Societies

If you want to motivate people to break free from the current status-quo, then raising the bar of expectations — with a compelling vision, plus some bold goals and objectives — is certainly one approach to consider. The Broadband Commission for Digital Development has issued a challenge to world leaders, their top policymakers and other key stakeholders.

The following is their list of raised expectations:

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A Plea for Investment, Not Spending

By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist

As economic confusion roils the world, it’s disconcerting that no one seems to know which path to take to solve the problem.

Governments in economic turmoil, such as those in Greece and Italy, consider austerity. Other governments, such as the United States, consider even more spending.

I would argue for a different mindset, one that favors the concept of investing instead of spending. Certainly government must address present concerns, but it’s even more important that it lays the foundation to help its citizens prepare for and thrive in the future. (Would World War II have lasted as long, if the United States had been less isolationist during the preceding years?)

Rather than budgeting money for jobs, I’d prefer to see government budget money for infrastructure that will establish a foundation for the ongoing creation of new jobs.

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