Lessons for growth in global recession

The Intelligent Community Forum held its annual awards ceremony and Broadband Economy Summit last week in New York City. A new Intelligent Community of the Year was chosen amid conversations about how cities can incubate local growth in a global recession.

This year’s ICF Building the Broadband Economy Summit was set to the backdrop of the worst global recession since the early Twentieth Century. Beyond the culmination of the ICF’s annual awards cycle, the assembled community leaders from around the world tried to answer the question, what makes intelligent communities different during a global recession?

Norman Jacknis, the Director of Global Public Sector Internet Business Solutions at Cisco Systems and former Chief Information Officer in Westchester County, New York, said, “Broadband is the essential infrastructure in today’s world.”

“The network empowers the whole community to participate in the creation and provision of public goods. Through mashups and other technologies connected to a wide adoption of broadband, the network creates the ‘Pro-sumer’ – or a citizen who is both the producer and consumer of public services.”

One example he gave was in the United Kingdom where an application called FixMyStreet, uses opensource software and interactive maps to allow community members to monitor street conditions, saving the government thousands by not having to send out inspectors.

Another example is iStrategyLab’s Apps For Democracy, an opensource contest designed to make Washington, D.C.’s Data Catalog of open public data useful for the people and businesses of Washington D.C. The contest cost D.C. $50,000 and yielded “47 iPhone, Facebook and web applications with an estimated value in excess of $2,300,000 to the city,” according to a release by iStrategyLab.

“Apps for Democracy produced more savings for the D.C. government than any other initiative.” Vivek Kundra, former CTO of Washington, DC and current Federal CIO said in a statement.

According to Mr. Jacknis, the bigger picture is to have “governments make the data available, and citizens make it relevant.”

Top City Crowned

The Intelligent Community of the Year for 2009 was awarded to Stockholm, Sweden for their development of a fiber-optic network throughout the municipality as a level playing field for all operators. As a result the network has more than 90 operators and 450 enterprises as primary customers and is now in the final year of a three-year project to bring fiber to 100% of public housing, which is expected to add 95,000 households to the network. Stockholm’s Mayor has set a goal of connecting 90% of all households to fiber by 2012.

In an ICF statement announcing Stockholm the winner, ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla said, “This is a community that has methodically and substantially redefined the possibilities of urban living and sets an example of how technology can play a role to enhance economic and social development.”

The City of Stockholm published Vision 2030 in 2007, identifying the key characteristics the city aimed to have by that year. In 2030, according to the plan, Stockholm would be a world-class metropolis offering a rich urban living experience, the center of an internationally competitive innovation region, and a place where citizens enjoyed a broad range of high-quality, cost-effective social services.

Virginia falls short, but not diminished

“None of us knew what we were getting ourselves into,” said Jim Rector, Mayor of Bristol, Va., on setting forth to provide broadband to rural customers in the Tri-Cities region.

In 1998, officials from the Bristol Virginia Utilities sought grant money to lay fiber optic cable between their eight electric stations in the Appalachian region around southwestern Virginia and Northern Tennessee. In 2001, BVU began offering fiber-to-the-user (FTTU) services under the name OptiNet.

Despite $2.5 million and three years of legal battles, BVU won the right to deliver voice, data and cable to businesses and residential areas within their jurisdiction. “We were the first municipality in the U.S. to do the triple play – we’re considered the pioneers,” Mr. Rector said during the Summit.

The cumulative savings of providing broadband to the region is around $10 million in under six years and an average decline in costs per month of $40 or more for households. The region has also benefited from a dramatic increase in the average wage because of “near shore” operations of information technology companies who needed fiber-optic lines to run their businesses.

“Northrop Grumman and CGI, they’ve told me, ‘We would not have considered coming to southern Virginia had it not been for BVU offering the service,’” Mayor Rector said.

“It is humbling to be included among such an elite group,” Mayor Jim Rector said in a written statement about the award. “We never envisioned the fiber optic network we launched in 2003 would put us on the map globally.”

“To be selected as one of seven finalists, and the only U.S. city from a field of more than 450 international applicants for this prestigious technological award, speaks volumes about the professionalism and foresight of our personnel and their dedication to the improvement of the quality of life for Bristol and the Southwest Virginia region,” Bristol Virginia City Manager Bill Dennison also said in a statement.

Lessons ongoing

As the summit drew to a close, the operative word associated with the global recession was opportunity.

Hans Tijl, Acting Director of the Amsterdam Development Corporation said, “The most important lesson is, don’t wait. Make a connection with the private sector, make a good business case and put some money on the table yourself.”

“Crisis is a great time to think over your strategic choices – a great opportunity to think about what you need in next twenty or thirty years,” Hans continued.

Waterloo, Ontario Mayor Brenda Halloran agreed. “Positioning for the next upswing – talking with local business, collaborating and creating opportunities for each other is the key. Always be looking for connections,” she urged.

As seen by the diverse set of Top Seven communities, both rural and urban communities have a role to play in the Broadband Community. And rural communities have, perhaps, the bigger opportunity to leapfrog their urban neighbors by leveraging technology.

“The exciting thing is that more and more, local communities are taking the initiative and scaling up,” Hans said.

Print Friendly