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Issy-les-Moulineaux, France (2009)
Building a new way of life on the Web
Published Thursday, January 1, 2009


Back to Top Seven by:  Year   Population   Region
Posted: April 2009

Some Intelligent Communities leap into action in response to economic crisis.  Others are spurred by demographic change or fears of eroding competitiveness.  And some embrace change because a leader persuades them to.

In 1980, the people of the Paris suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux (e-SEE leh mole-yin-OH) elected Andre Santini as their Mayor.  It is doubtful if, on election day, they knew exactly how much change they had just agreed to embrace.

Issy-les-Moulineaux (www.issy.com), which is appearing on the Top Seven list for a second time, had enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Paris, on the other bank of the Seine River, for all of its history.  From being a center of winemaking in the Middle Ages and the "holiday resort" of the French nobility in the 17th Century, it evolved into the industrial zone of the Paris region in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  It was also home to an army base that, in 1905, saw the historic first 1-kilometer circuit flight of aviator Henri Farman.  After the Second World War, Issy resumed its role as the industrial engine of the region – but then watched its economy erode in the de-industrialization of the 1970s and 1980s.  It was clear that the future would have to be different from the past if Issy was to sustain itself. 

Leading By Example

Mayor Santini's vision was to rebuild Issy's economy for a time when information and communications technology would take the place of traditional industry as a generator of jobs.  In the early Eighties, the outlines of the Broadband Economy were far from clear.  But the Mayor was determined to grow the small base of IT, telecommunications and R&D organizations that Issy, with its proximity to the nation's capital, had already attracted.  And he believed the way to do it was to lead by example.     

As the Eighties gave way to the Nineties, the city administration took its first steps.  Issy was the first French city to install outdoor electronic information displays and the first to deploy a cable TV network.  In 1993, schools introduced a smart card allowing pupils to pay for lunch elec¬tronically. The following year, the City Council rebuilt its meeting room for multimedia and began broadcasting Council meetings over the cable system.  The Mayor also challenged city departments to create a comprehensive Information Plan based on study of the evolution of the Internet in the United States.  As an example of foresight, this is hard to beat.  In 1994, the company that was to create the first commercial Web browser, Netscape, was just being founded and the entire World Wide Web consisted of only 10,000 sites.  Under the plan, completed in 1996, a Steering Committee representing municipal departments and elected officials was created to direct investment in projects and maintain focus on objectives.        

Among its most striking decisions was to outsource, in 1997, the entire IT infrastructure of the city to Euriware, a 10-year-old Paris company.  The goal was to create an efficient service organization that could quickly turn ideas from municipal departments into reality.  Mayor Santini promoted it as the first essential step in trans¬forming Issy into a "digital city."     

The rate of change accelerated.  In 1994, Issy launched the first version of an e-government portal to share information with citizens.  By 1995, Issy had free Internet access in its Media Library and, in 1997, the Council added online access to its cable and Internet broadcast of meetings, inviting citizens to ask questions by telephone or email and get an immediate response.  Public participation began to climb.  Whereas few residents bothered to attend Council meetings in the past, an average of 45% now regularly participate remotely, according to Issy.  Service was expanded in 2005 with the IRIS "citizen relationship management" system, through which citizens could make inquiries or lodge complaints online, via telephone, email or mail.  By 2008, the portal (www.issy.com) was providing local news, online public procurement, online applications for certificates and permits, and access to more than 15,000 documents, and was receiving over 1 million visits per year.

Making Liberalization Work for Issy

The first of January 1998 was a watershed moment in France.  On that date, the state-owned France Telecom lost its monopoly on telecommunications.  The history of such liberalization in telecom has been mixed at best.  It has succeeded in lowering prices, particularly for long-distance service, but has failed in local markets around the world to loosen the grip of incumbents.  Not so in Issy – because, well before the deadline, Mayor Santini's team launched negotiations with alternative carriers, which agreed to enter public-private partnerships with Issy to deploy networks.   As a result, January 1998 was also when Issy became the first city in France to offer businesses a choice of carriers.  Over the next decade, as it continued to welcome competitors, Issy gained a total of six alternative broadband networks, passing 100% of businesses, government agencies, institutions and households.  The residential penetration rate for broadband is a bit over 80%, compared with the French average of 50%.

In the first years of the new century, Issy began offering services specifically designed to build a broadband culture of use among its people.  The Internet broadcasts of City Council meetings expanded to include other content on a Web portal branded Issy TV.  The city opened a digital arts center for multimedia artists called The Cube, and launched an ongoing series of ICT training classes for children and adults.  In 2002, Issy introduced four innovative programs spanning from youth to age.  With its primary and secondary schools already equipped with broadband and PCs, it began to install systems in daycare and kindergarten classrooms, each equipped with Webcams so that working parents could connect to the classroom to participate in their youngster's activities.  Issy took a similar approach to the elderly by creating Cyber Tearooms, where older citizens could experience digital technologies and receive training in familiar and comforting surroundings.  Over 2,600 people have benefited from Cyber Tearoom training to date.  For voters, Issy recruited representative volunteers for an interactive Citizen Panel, which the City Council consults regularly via Internet about policy issues.  A Participatory Budget-Making program also lets citizens help the city in setting investment priorities.  In the same year, Issy introduced Internet voting for neighborhood council elections and, by 2005, 62% of citizens were participating in the elections, of whom nearly 94% voted over the Web.  In 2003, Issy became the first French city to introduce free public WiFi in locations ranging from government buildings to hospitals, hotels and convention centers.   

Attracting ICT Employers

The French expect many services from their government, which created a host of opportunities for Issy to lead by example.  But Mayor Santini's team also worked hard to build private-sector employment.  The offer of public-private partnerships proved a powerful tool.  It was critical to reducing the risk for the first competitive carriers that wired Issy in the 1990s, and a recent partnership with France Telecom R&D has made Issy a test bed for new applications, including a trial of 100 Mbps fiber-to-the-home.  Recently, Issy lodged responsibility for its information technology and communications in a public-private venture called Issy Media.  It is majority-owned by Issy but its remaining shareholders are companies based in Issy and its employees are considered private-sector rather than being civil servants.  

Aside from such partnerships, however, Issy does not engage in typical tax-based incentive strategies.  It has counted instead on offering a location near the economic and political center of the country with superior broadband infrastructure, a business-friendly climate and innovative e-services.  The combination seems to work.  Today, 57% of the companies in Issy are in the ICT sector, including Cisco Systems' European headquarters, Hewlett Packard, Orange Internet, Sybase, Marie Claire Group, Canal+, Eurosport, GlobeCast, Ausy, GFI, Wavecom and Microsoft Europe.  A total of 1,500 companies employ about 70,000 people, half in ICT.  A business incubator, "Le Pepiniere," offers support for business start-ups with a special unit devoted to ICT.  A new development called Le Fort Numerique, scheduled to open in 2012, will convert a 19th Century fortress into a mixed-use residential and business facility focusing on innovation in ICT and "green" lifestyles. 

Issy's economic success has funded the rich array of broadband applications deployed by government.  The efficiency of these applications has, in turn, made it possible for Issy's population to grow 35% since 1990 without any increase in government payrolls.  With an employment rate close to 95%, Issy has the distinction of having 15% more jobs than residents, and a Web-savvy population in which 98% of respondents told a recent survey that the Internet had fundamentally changed their lives.  Here's just one example: starting in 2008, the local football club introduced fans to a Web portal where they could not only watch matches, clips and interviews but also influence coaching and recruitment policy.  Every week in Issy, these "cyber-coaches" hold a vote on which players should have their bonuses increased and which should be banished to the bench.  That is a powerful way to encourage average citizens to build a Web-based way of life that actually strengthens their ties to the community.  


Top 7 Conversation

Issy Media Managing Director, Eric Legale speaks with ICF Co-Founder John Jung



Top Seven Intelligent Community 2009 & 2007


Labor Force

Top Industries Information technology, communications, broadcasting, financial services, pharmaceuticals, publishing.

Key Leaders
Mayor Andre Santini

Eric Legale, Managing Director, Issy Media

Ginette Broncy, Chairwoman, ICT Committee, Economic and Social Council of Issy-les-Moulineaux

News Updates

A computer for less than 50 euros to reduce the digital divide in Issy

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