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Monday, March 21, 2016
The World at GLOBE in Vancouver discusses ways to create Business Opportunities while Saving the Planet

Congratulations to the Intelligent Community of Vancouver! The GLOBE Leadership Summit in Vancouver from March 2-4 was an exceptional experience. Nearly two thousand business and government leaders from over 50 countries came together to network and advance global business and sustainability agendas in Vancouver. 200 thought leaders from around the world focused on issues regarding sustainability, urban resiliency and all things related to the future of the planet.

But globe is not a normal eco-conference. GLOBE is considered North America’s largest and most influential sustainable business leadership summit. It is known for attracting c-suite business executives, government officials, and civil society leaders on topics such as how to leverage markets and innovation to turning environmental challenges into business opportunities. Essentially people came to learn how to create business opportunities while saving the planet. New strategies and incentives for lower energy consumption were discussed; waste systems explored, inspired by the circular economy, including site visits to Vancouver’s wastewater treatment center and Metro Vancouver’s Waste to Energy facility; cap and trade options debated; diversified low-carbon housing examined; and homelessness solutions discussed. GLOBE 2016 also sought to forge new partnerships and think outside the box. It took on the discussions beyond smart cities and asked how to advance the creation of Intelligent Communities through smart partnerships. Intelligent Communities look to environmental innovation and the global investment and job opportunities that come with it.

This year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opened the conference, citing: “The future belongs to countries and businesses that become leaders of clean technologies, innovation, and sustainability.” He also held a First Ministers Meeting urging premiers to overcome their political differences to collaborate on climate change, indicating that it’s not a matter of pitting pipelines against wind turbines: “The environment ought not to be a partisan issue.” On the heels of Trudeau’s visit to meet U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House to unveil a continental climate strategy, he noted that as the global economy shifts to green energy, Canada is well-positioned to become a leader. The Summit also saw participating global Mayors hold forums at the event, allowing participants to get close up and personal with them. I moderated the main two and a half hour SMART CITIES session: “Evolution of Communities: Unravelling the DNA of the Modern Smart City”  and hosted one of the workshop tables at the “Advancing Intelligent Cities through Smart Partnerships: An International Mayoral Roundtable & Workshop on Smart Cities” .

Global speakers in the main SMART CITIES session included Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman of Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), (1999 Intelligent Community of the Year); Bruce Hayne, Surrey, BC City Councillor (2015 and 2016 Top7 Intelligent Community); David Gilford, Vice President of the Economic Development Authority in NYC, (2001 Intelligent Community of the Year); Ger Baron, Amsterdam’s Chief Technology Officer; and Lorie Wigle, McAffey/Intel Security VP from Portland, Oregon. The session was extremely well received and considered a highlight for communities looking at creating better opportunities for their citizens as Smart Cities and Intelligent Communities. Mayors and city councillors, educators and private sector participants filled the standing room session at the Pan Pacific Hotel for the full 2 and 1/2 hours. The highly interactive session included the audience as an integral part of the presentations, raising questions about Singapore’s density, affordable housing and transit; NYC’s initiatives for sustainability; Amsterdam’s programs as a smart city and Surrey’s strategies to attract clean tech firms to its Innovation Boulevard initiatives. Throughout, privacy, security and the health and safety of our cities were ever-present in the discourse among the panelists. Following this marathon session, a 3 hour workshop with Mayors and international delegates took place at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, the results of which will become a white paper on strategies that Intelligent Communities can employ through smart partnerships.

ICF and ICF Canada also received numerous references in the media before, during and after the GLOBE 2016 gathering in Vancouver. For instance, Surrey’s Mayor Hepner and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met in Surrey at which time Surrey’s Intelligent Community recognition was discussed. The Cantech Letter posted the headline: “Surrey BC Talking Intelligent Community Initiatives at Globe Series 2016 in Vancouver. Additionally, a Vancouver Sun article focused on the Intelligent Community of Surrey.

Monday, March 14, 2016
Broadband And An Open Internet

Six US Senators, mostly from small rural states, wrote recently to the FCC about the inconsistencies they found between its recent report on broadband progress and its Open Internet order that was issued last March.

The FCC’s stated:

“We find that advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion… … many Americans still lack access to advanced telecommunications capability, especially in rural areas… the disparity between rural and urban Americans persists”.

The Senators:

  • objected to the FCC’s view that broadband is not being deployed fast enough
  • expressed their “concern” that the FCC’s broadband benchmark (25 Mpbs download and 3 Mbps upload speeds) “discourages broadband providers from offering speeds at or above [that] benchmark.”
  • pointed out difference in broadband definitions between the Open Internet proposal and the broadband report
  • questioned why the Connect American fund only subsidizes rural broadband at speeds of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload.

This post is not primarily about the issue of net neutrality, as important as that is. Instead, hopefully I’m giving an objective, third party view of this debate about broadband from the perspective of the Intelligent Community Forum’s more than fifteen years of working with communities around the world and seeing what level and kind of broadband they need.

As might be expected, both sides of this dispute are somewhat off the mark.

Despite the progress that is being made in some parts of the USA by private companies or municipal agencies, the FCC’s statement that broadband is not being deployed in a timely fashion is essentially correct.

The Senators’ assertion that maintaining a 25/3 broadband benchmark discourage telecommunications companies and other Internet Service Providers from delivering more than this minimum benchmark does not make a lot of sense and is not supported by any evidence. Our observation is that, in areas where these companies feel under competitive threat, they manage to find the money to invest in upgrading speeds on their networks.

It’s also worth pointing out that the speeds that are promised by ISPs are seldom delivered, as anyone who has used Speedtest or similar services can attest. This reality seems unrecognized by both the Senators and the FCC.

The focus of the FCC and the Senators on download speeds ignores the need for upload speeds, especially for those who want to use broadband for business, health care and education. In some respects, it is best to look at the combination of upload and download speeds. The FCC’s discussion about fairness to big content providers might have misled them into thinking mostly about delivery of content from a central source and not to consider the world we have, where people are both consumers and producers of content.

The Senators’ statement that they are unaware of any application needing 25 Mbps ignores the demands of even the near term future. Broadband projects, according to the telecommunications companies, are major investments — presumably made to meet the needs of more than the next six months.

There was a time perhaps a decade ago when people couldn’t figure out why they needed more than dial up speeds. Now they know and demand broadband. The FCC, the Senators and telecommunications companies all need to realize that even speeds that are above today will seem way too slow for the applications that are coming in a few years.

The Senators are correct that there is no good public policy reason to accept different broadband speeds for urban versus rural areas. Our work with rural areas, if anything, would lead us to believe that the reverse is true. Those in urban areas can still seek out a large number of customers and business partners the old fashioned way, in person. To succeed in the global economy today, those living in rural areas need higher speeds to connect with people far away.

Although the Senators brought together the FCC’s Open Internet policy and broadband assessment to criticize the FCC, there is an interplay between net neutrality (the FCC’s Open Internet) and broadband which goes beyond the FCC’s contradictory statements. Simply, if the bandwidth is sufficient, then there would be less reason to throttle any consumer or content provider — and thus less reason for concern about how Internet service providers could be hurt by Open Internet requirements.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The best acts of defiance are made in pursuit of a greater good. History is complete with tales of passive resistance, armed rebellions and legends of a person or group of dedicated souls who refuse to sell-out, cave-in or toss-down the towel, no matter how overwhelming the forces stacked against them or the depth of corruption from a perverse civil order. You and I honor the private inspirations in our lives who get us out of bed and roll us forward, somehow putting in us a deeper psychic mark and recalibrated moral settings. Those whose actions are given the stamp of the “heroic” or “visionary” after their time of persistence are seen to have been clearly on the right side of the cause, while most could only see through the glass darkly. They are, in the words of my father, not deliberate and intentional provocateurs, but people who simply “stuck by their guns.” At ICF we have 145 of them.

There are seminal moments in the life of these communities. They are the result at times of small acts of unexpected expression. Something like inspiration builds, and because the community is a canvas, remains untouched, until inspiration strikes. These things come as shocks. There are profound acts of empathy, sometimes directed by a policy and sometimes by a spirit, which stagger us and bring us back to our moral GPS. A few days before we announced our new Top7, one occurred in the midst of a harsh winter afternoon in New York, when a perfect stranger on a rolling Subway took off his own shirt and gave it to a perfect stranger who happened to be homeless and shirtless: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xiKgeqUDDY. Some people were humbled; others didn’t believe it.

“Empathy,” says author Jen Percy, “starts as an act of fiction. We must think ourselves into the lives of others.” Certainly this was an act of empathy, but also one of defiance. Defiance of the stereotype that here in my city we are all cold-hearted citizens. Defiance too of the notion that all of us believe there is a gap between citizens on the basis of mental health or economic distance.

Defiance must be part of an Intelligent Community. It must also be bred from their fictions. The myths which define and anchor us to the story of the places we call “home” drive us into the future and propel us to believe that things will be better. It is at the core of the fifth criteria of our awards program and index: Advocacy.

When I think of defiance, I think of Defiance. Defiance, Iowa that is. The tiny American hamlet got its name because its townspeople had at one time actually relocated from another settlement because they were unhappy that the railroad company had not laid tracks in the old place. They were forever known as 'defiers.' They believed it and lived up to the myth. Despite its pipsqueak population, 284 people, it proudly produced a state governor, Mr. C.A. Robins. Governor Robins was the 22nd governor of the state. The state of Idaho, far away. A governor is a governor and while tiny Defiance has not tossed itself into the ring for Intelligent Community status yet (Dubuque beat them to the honor of becoming Iowa’s first Intelligent Community last year, when it made our list of Smart21) it seems to me to have the right stuff for our crowd!

Our crowd of 21 communities got a little thinner last week when we named a new Top7. I am certain that the motive to defy and to tell their tale to the world drives this group just as much as the need for a railroad drove Defiance. The Smart21 and the Top7 also needed the railroad. The new railroad is broadband. Each of the new Top7, at different times, and in different ways, made a decision to pull the trigger or stand down the gravity of economic failure that had pulled thousands of other counties, cities and towns steadily down in the post-Industrial era. They got their broadband rails down and began the hard work of turning into truly defiant places to challenge the status quo and create a better future. This year’s Top7 is a splendidly diverse group, which includes one city that has not yet reached its sixth birthday (New Taipei City, Taiwan) and another (Montreal, Canada) that lit the candles for its 350th year since formation. They will both share a stage in Columbus, Ohio (USA) in June. They are comrades because they both have defiance as part of their legacy. You will learn why when you get to Ohio in June.

Understanding the fictions and the myth which are the canvases of communities has been ICF’s way of getting at the details and the data of these places. Having done this since 1999, when Singapore took the prize as the first Intelligent Community of the Year, we felt it was time this year to take our evidence-based, objective metrics and to develop the first global Index of Intelligent Communities. You can read more about this on our website, but leave me to say that the big change is that for the first time, any community, any time of year can enter our awards program by submitting to us (at no cost) a survey form. When you do, you will also receive a report comparing your performance to our global data set. This will help you measure your progress and take the next step toward defying the odds and becoming an Intelligent Community. It will also help ICF take the next steps and publish reports at intervals, to give policy-makers, the media and planners a snapshot of the defiers. Those leaders at the grassroots who will move if the railroad and the renaissance don’t come to town soon. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016
Get Ready for the Next Industrial Revolution IoT

Get ready for the next industrial revolution. Change is inevitable. Get over it! And in today’s world, it will happen quickly.  The drivers for it are not only structural, political, scientific and economic, but also cultural and social. They are manifested through such things as products and services, platforms and processes, as well as how people, governments and organizations are willing to accept and work with them. On the horizon is a phenomenon that is already changing the way we live. Billions of machine–to-machine (M2M) connections are actively connecting devices and applications that people use everyday such as Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Nest, or Apple’s HomeKit. On the Smart City scene are digital programs ranging from water and air quality sensors to sensor-enabled trash collection, using data to improve efficiency, reduce costs and make better use of our limited resources. The Internet of Things (IoT), which includes M2M connections and sensor-enabled environmental data generators, will probably be one of the most revolutionary impacts on our communities and on our lives since the broad-scale adoption of the Internet. While over 15 billion devices are already connected with one another today including computers with mobile devices, medical and environmental sensors, and industrial and commercial machines, 85% of these devices and other things are still unconnected.  It is expected that 50 billion devices and applications will be connected by 2020. The growing adoption of IoT is driving businesses of all makes and sizes to bring about changes in the way they do business, service customers, attract and retain talented workforce and deal with supply chains.

According to Gartner, Inc., the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company, IoT is also one of the most active areas for innovation. Gartner analysts say that IoT has potential as a breakthrough technology, but its complexities make it a high-risk endeavor.  Nevertheless, according to Cisco, the IoT market will be worth $19 trillion, including the private and public sectors by 2024. Soon, entire companies will dedicate their focus on the IoT marketplace. For instance, at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung said that by 2020, every product the company makes will be “smart” devices. 

In Waterloo Region, we have a rich history of being successful and entrepreneurial makers which our Mennonite and Germanic heritage can attest. Fast forward to the 21st century we too are entering the next industrial revolution…the Internet of Things. There are many local players making an impact in the IoT space. Technology developed by companies like IMS, Miovision, Aeryon Labs, Clearpath Robotics alongside startups like Alert Labs, StressWell IQ, Konectera, Medella Health to name but a few.  We can reap the economic benefits of bringing to Waterloo Region investment dollars and creating an environment of success and support by local stakeholders and organizations like the Accelerator Centre and Communitech. Most importantly, we should attract top talent from all corners of the globe to live, innovate and work here.

Our academic institutions are continuing to invest in research, infrastructure and training the 21st century knowledge worker.  Before IoT became the buzzword of the day, our schools had the expertise to educate at the nexus of hardware and software. Conestoga College has woven electronic & mechanical systems programming into their curriculum, and is well positioned with software development, sensors, prototyping and additive manufacturing labs to meet the demands of the marketplace. Truly one of the leading outfitted colleges in the nation and true to their roots, they’ve been working with industry to pull in projects that focus on high performance ICT enabled manufacturing.  University of Waterloo is building a $70m facility, Engineering 7, with the mission of “educating the engineer of the future”. They’re providing students cutting-edge research labs including those in emerging and disruptive technologies; garages for student design projects and specialized spaces such as machine shops, an electronic components shop, and the RoboHub for aerial vehicles and robotics testing. Business and computer science acumen developed at Wilfird Laurier University round out this robust technology ecosystem.  

By combining our solid roots in manufacturing and engineering with existing strengths in ICT, a qualified workforce and specialized IoT relevant disciplines, we may well have the ingredients for success. Our forefathers from another industrial era of innovation would be proud.

This article first appeared in MyLivableCity (www.mylivablecity.com).

Monday, February 1, 2016
The Trump in the Coal Mine

The multi-billion-dollar circus that is the American Presidential election rolls ever on. We stand amazed that a billionaire real estate developer and reality TV star, spewing a sneering mix of lies and vitriol, dominates the Republican side of the contest. He is less a Presidential candidate than a walking Twitter account, with a gift for finding words and attitudes that speak powerfully to a segment of the American people.

Who is this segment? Who does The Donald speak for? Nate Cohen, writing in The New York Times, shared an analysis conducted by Civis Analytics in an article well worth reading. They are more likely to be white, male and 50 years old or older than the rest of the US population. They are more likely to have a tendency toward racism, which is why Trump’s most revolting views do not send them running. They are also short on higher education; his strongest support is in Census tracts where 20% or less of the population has, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree.

What does that add up to? To me, it is a description of people on the losing end of the broadband economy. The growth of the knowledge-based, innovation-focused economy, which so ruthlessly purges uncompetitive industries and companies, has stunted their job prospects and shrunk their hopes. They feel betrayed and angry. So an angry man – despite his riches, reputation and liberal leanings – is the only one who speaks what is in their hearts.

My friends and colleagues around the world may shake their heads at this American phenomenon. But that would be to miss the point. The same anger at being left behind is rising in Europe, fueled by endless recession and now massive migration. It is among the many forces tearing the Middle East apart and roiling Latin America as the commodities boom ends. There is literally no chance that Donald Trump will enter the White House, except perhaps on a visitor’s pass, because he has too few supporters and they are not likely voters. But like the canary in the coal mine, Trump is a sign of trouble that must be addressed. For all of its benefits, the broadband economy is bad news for part of our people and we ignore their needs at our peril.

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