|Monday, September 8, 2014|
|When is it Fair to Deny Broadband to a Neighborhood?|
Americans in Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas are now using broadband at the kind of speeds once enjoyed only by South Koreans, Japanese, Hongkongers and, believe it or not, Latvians. As customers of Google Fiber, they can buy gigabit services delivering 1,000 Mbps service. That is 100 times the average American broadband speed reported by Akamai in April 2014.
By leapfrogging to gigabit speeds, Google is upending the competitive broadband market in the US. It has lots of help from dozens of municipal networks in places like Chattanooga (TN), Danville (VA), Springfield (MO) and Santa Monica (CA). It’s about time, some would say. But the really intriguing part of the Google Fiber story is not its speed – it’s the way it is being deployed.
According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, the deal that Google strikes with its Fiber Cities has a unique clause: it specifically exempts the company from offering universal service. Instead, Google divides the service area into “fiberhoods” of a few hundred homes and asks residents to pay $10 to preregister for service. If interest exceeds a threshold, from 5-25% of households, Google rolls trucks and fibers up the fiberhood. If not, the trucks say in the garage.
The flexibility to build where it chooses, plus more efficient and cheaper technologies, has let Google deploy service for about 20% less than Verizon’s competing FIOS deployment. Lower upfront costs translate into lower business risk, higher profits and more coverage. Gigabit service costs US$70 per month in Google’s Kansas City fiberhoods, compared with $120-150 per month in AT&T’s Dallas-Fort Worth system.
According to the company, Google conducted preregistration in 364 fiberhoods in the two Kansas Cities and all but 16 of them met the threshold. But, not surprisingly, participation varies by income. According to a survey by brokerage firm Bernstein Research, 83% of households in a neighborhood with median household income of $116,000 signed up. In another neighborhood, with media income of $24,000, only 27% subscribe.
So here’s a question: is Google playing fair? Is Google’s approach just a means for the company to cherry-pick the most profitable customers – or is it a refreshingly new strategy to get ultrafast broadband into the market faster?
Each of us will have an answer. Here’s mine: I think it is a refreshingly new strategy. Because anything that lowers upfront costs tends to lead to lower prices, higher profits and – most important of all – more coverage.
Google’s approach also puts the onus of universal service where it properly belongs: on government as representative of the people. I find that refreshing. Is it not a bizarre logic to require companies to take on money-losing customers as a condition of entering a business? In return for that condition, companies have historically demanded and won monopoly control of the market. And we all know how well monopolies and even duopolies work out for their customers. Encouraging monopoly markets to form is a bit like doing a deal with the devil. It gets you want you want – but at a higher price than you think.
If we believe in universal service, then it is the obligation of the public sector to pay for it. And it is better in the long run to pay for it transparently: through subsidies, through incentives that further reduce the risk of deployment for private carriers, and in some cases by constructing networks and leasing capacity to carriers.
Google’s move is hardly the last word, nor the only way to get more and cheaper broadband coverage. But isn’t it the kind of innovation that deserves fair consideration? Let me know what you think by posting a comment to my discussion on LinkedIn’s ICF Group.
|Monday, August 25, 2014|
|From Smart to Intelligent Mobility|
Urban transportation and efficient logistics is at the heart of a vital and thriving metropolitan area. However, unbridled growth can result in congestion, pollution and undesirable daily stress which can evolve into impoverished environments leading to inefficiencies, unproductive land-uses and a diminished quality of life for its citizens. Solving the mobility challenges of moving people, goods and services is one of the most pressing issues in modern and growing cities around the world.
Trade is inextricably linked to transport. Trading goods and services and its related transport is one of the oldest of human activities. Mobility challenges impacting trade and thereby potentially impacting the attraction and retention of investment and talent can seriously undermine the sustainability of the city and region from an environmental, fiscal and social perspective. By undertaking smart technologies to manage urban assets such as roads, traffic lights and related transportation systems, it may be possible to improve efficiencies, increase transport productivity and harness enhanced mobility options. The side benefits of this may also include cost savings, improved safety and enhanced customer service.
International examples of smart transportation-related technologies include coordinated traffic management control systems such as developed in Tokyo, Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro; managed goods mobility and separated road systems in the USA; vehicle-to-vehicle and community-to-vehicle communications; independent transport guidance systems; as well as GIS-based information systems for improved congestion prediction techniques. However broadband-based smart technologies used to monitor and measure data and support GIS-related systems are not a revolution. They have been around for decades; but they are getting better, faster and more affordable. Companies like IBM, Siemens and Cisco are assisting municipalities with their asset management and monitoring transportation movement. Through analyzing the big data derived from monitoring systems, cities are able to make informed decisions to improve efficiencies as well as identify ways of saving municipalities considerable resources to manage traffic flows, pollution and unnecessary alteration to roadways and related land-uses.
These improvements may make a city’s budget chief and his asset manager very happy, but most of the city’s citizens may not be aware of any of these changes. But imagine an advanced mobility and logistics ecosystem that not only manages traffic flows, congestion and related municipal assets, but adds to the overall quality of life through engaging people in every aspect of city life. The Intelligent Community movement encourages communities to look at their approach to the evolution of their cities from a more holistic perspective. Urban and regional infrastructure, such as roads, rail, seaports, airports and now ultra-high speed broadband are vital elements to a modern, thriving community. However, ICF also advocates the need for communities to build in a better understanding of the impact of the Internet of Things, encouraging an inclusive and highly collaborative environment promoting innovation and creativity and employment of education capabilities needed to create the talent related to advanced mobility and logistics. Within an environment promoting mobility related education and innovation, comes research. For instance, Cisco, Google and BMW are experimenting with the driverless vehicle. These are vehicles that are essentially computers with long lasting lithium batteries on wheels that will transport people and products without the need for drivers.
Other examples include driverless buses in Eindhoven in the Netherlands; the research advances of mobility experiments in California and the work of WatCAR, the University of Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research in Canada. Other forms of movement from rail-based High Speed Rail systems and Light Rapid Transit (LRT) to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), elevated Monorails and strategic city based Shuttle Services, such as airport and industrial park shuttle services are making impacts in communities throughout the world. Some of these systems are being touted as essential to attract and retain talent, as well as investment in their cities. Restricted Transport use lanes and High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on highways are also advocated. City and region-wide bike paths are increasingly becoming part of a community’s toolkit of mobility options. Cities that have rivers and lakes are blessed with the opportunities to use ferry systems as part of their movement nomenclature. Cities are also moving people with moving sidewalks, elevated pedwalks and unique pedestrian linkages as part of bridge systems. In addition to these, cities are expanding sidewalks, developing tourist –oriented walking trails with GIS supported information displays, music systems and other cultural attractions.
Human evolution and the growth of our towns, villages and cities follow closely the evolution of trade. Trade developed the cities of Europe, Asia and the Americas. Furs traded in the northern regions of Canada and the United States along converging waterways created settlements which today have become major trading centers such as Minneapolis, Winnipeg and Toronto. Railways opened the west and created hubs such as Chicago for grain and livestock. Roads expanded our cities into the outer reaches of our regions and our seaports and airports connected our citizens and shipped our traded goods around the world. But transport needs to be considered beyond road, rail, ferries and even airports.
Mobility in our communities should not simply be dependent on physical improvements to vehicles, roadways and rail systems, thereby potentially limiting the economy, talent and ultimately the relevance of some cities on this planet. Accordingly, new methods of transporting products and services in a knowledge economy must also be considered. Today, with the provision of satellite technologies and undersea cables, our goods and services have expanded to include data, video expression, games and ideas. Digital media applications, virtual businesses and advanced systems with new disruptive technologies, such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) will depend on use and application of high speed broadband, shifts in planning of global supply chains as well also on education to create the talent for these new disruptive and highly innovative businesses. In addition to available infrastructure, cities will also depend on the support of its citizenry and local leadership to help create and nurture its innovative ecosystem to help it to become a vibrant, competitive and sustainable region. Consequently, the future of Intelligent Communities depend on their ability to resolve their mobility challenges - from roads linking the center of these cities with its suburbs and hinterlands to ultra-high-speed broadband access linking them with the rest of the world.
Intelligent Communities harness intelligent infrastructure, including provision of robust high-speed broadband with its local talent to innovate and create new products and services. These highly innovative and creative communities are providing great opportunities for new wealth creation, such as in Tokyo, Berlin, London, San Francisco and New York where digital and advanced ICT-enabled industries cluster. Many of these cities are creating new products and services through the convergence of talent from around the world and are now distributing them virtually over broadband networks. Intelligent Communities are cities where everyone is encouraged to participate and benefit from its innovation ecosystem. Through excellent public policies, advocacy and good governance, these cities also exude confidence and stability that helps to attract the investment and talent to continuously improve the environment and ecosystem that makes these cities successful Intelligent Communities.
ICF’s theme this year: The Revolutionary Community: How Intelligent Communities are Reinventing Urban and Rural Planning will be looking at all aspects of planning and development, including mobility challenges and success stories. Watch for more blogs on these and other topics that will help in raising awareness about the importance of properly planning for and developing your community as we prepare our cities, regions and rural areas to meet the needs of the coming transformative decades ahead.
John G. Jung will be the International Keynote Speaker at the 2014 Auckland Transport Summit in Auckland, New Zealand. John will be providing an international perspective on mobility challenges in cities and how intelligent communities around the world are envisioning their transportation infrastructure and logistics futures to meet those challenges.
|Monday, August 18, 2014|
|Lessons from Somali Pirates on Community Development|
When you hear the word “pirate,” do you think of corsairs in wooden ships? Today’s reality, as dramatized in the film “Captain Phillips,” is malnourished men with automatic weapons in speedboats.
In 2012, piracy off the coast of Somalia cost an estimated $6 billion for security, higher fuel consumption, military operations, insurance and other expenses That’s about equal to the entire gross domestic product of Somalia. Now, research from the UK, reported in The Economist, suggests a better way to run those pirates aground.
Anja Shortland, an economist at King’s College London, and Federico Varese, a sociologist at the University of Oxford, studied patterns of hijacking and discovered something interesting. Somali clans control trade in their areas by issuing local licenses and charging taxes – a relatively safe source of income. It turns out that the only clans that offer protection to private are those with no other income, who need a share of their loot.
When Saudi Arabia imposed a ban on Somali livestock from 2000 to 2009, some coastal communities were especially hard-hit. They began offering refuge to pirates. When the ban was lifted and the clans could begin charging licenses and taxes again, the pirates soon found themselves in local jails.
The lasting solution to Somali piracy, then, is not to continue spending billions on securing ships and naval patrols, but to put a fraction of that amount into building roads and ports, installing communications and helping people trade.
This story made me wonder how many of the problems communities everywhere face today are fundamentally about a lack of opportunity. Economic opportunity. Educational opportunity. The opportunity to have our needs understood and to have a voice in decisions. The opportunity to give the next generation a better life.
All of the communities we profile in Brain Gain, our newest book, make opportunity their top priority. They have to – because the alternative is brain drain, as their most talented people leave in search of opportunity somewhere else. Opportunity is the pivot around which all of their programs and project turn, from broadband deployment and e-government to creating deep connections between their schools and businesses.
The more we focus on opportunity and how to create it in the 21st Century, the less we will have to focus on crime and punishment, ballooning health costs and shrinking budgets. The problems that confront us are so often not really the problems we need to solve. They are the symptoms of the much deeper challenges with which we must come to grips.
|Monday, August 11, 2014|
|Calling all Sticks & Slickers|
They used to call the place where I was raised, “The Sticks.” That is what they would call the village of Lyons, New York and other small towns “down there” in Manhattan, where I have lived for 30 years. For 30 years I have tried to find and maintain a balance between both places, although a few folks in the village did refer to me as the “city slicker” for long while. Language can separate people as much as distance.
We know that there are differences in size among the places we live, and we know that there remains an inferiority complex among the world’s rural communities, small towns and hamlets. Biases prevail, even in places that should know better, like Stockholm, Singapore and Brooklyn. In fact, the World Reference Forum still asks whether “the sticks” are further removed, geographically, than the evidently unreachable and, in the unenlightened mind, irrelevant “Middle of Nowhere.”
Since the dawn of the Intelligent Community movement in 1995, fewer and fewer people use those terms or ask questions like that. These are questions which reflect a time before the “Broadband Economy” presented itself in our screens. Since then the dialogue has been dramatically altered, and with it the language and perceptions of what is possible. As the Great Coral Reef was once referred to by the 18th Century explorer James Cook as ‘an insane labyrinth” (and for good reason, since in 1770 the coral ridge of Tasmania nearly sunk his ship), so it became perceived for what it is 200 year later, when the reef was declared a marine sanctuary by the Australian government. It is among the things which make life possible. It is not so far different than small towns.
It took those in the sticks and the city slickers working together to make it happen in Australia. It led to a social movement that I believe was the first salvo in the movement to protect our seas. It will be seen, someday, as the beginning of the long road ahead to restore the balance of the earth’s ecosystem. It also gave a boost to those smaller communities, where nature was still abundant and in balance.
Similarly, we hope our Rural Imperative will have an effect on the discussion of the importance of places like Pirai, Dakota County, Castelo de Vide and Mitchell. These four places, though small, submitted nomination forms in an attempt to show themselves that, like Taichung and Toronto, they were of the future. They succeeded. Mitchell, South Dakota (USA) likes to tell the story of how it grasped innovation, planned for the future and in the process became Intelligent.
Since we announced our 2015 Theme, we have been concerned that the submissions this year may come from only cities, where urban planning is part of the policy-making landscape. However, that would be contrary to the ICF method and dream, which is to ensure that any place people call “Home” can achieve at a global level and plan for the kind of life and economy that is sustainable.
As you consider whether to submit a nomination for your village, town or county, keep in mind that you too are either a “Revolutionary Community” at some level, or can be. By nominating your community to be evaluated with giants, you are not being David against Goliath. You are indicating your confidence that the place you are building, running or promoting is not only Smart and possibly Intelligent, it is also restoring the balance which we all know is out of whack. The “Middle of Nowhere” is no more – and has not been since 1995. Good luck.
|Wednesday, July 23, 2014|
|The Next Trail along the Great Divide|
Along with the successful economic migrations from poor to lower middle class in large swaths of the world, the rich really are getting richer. Many are getting rich because of the way knowledge is being “discovered,” deployed and productized. While most of the world still waits for access, the Digital Divide has moved on. A line is now being drawn between those with access and those who can interpret and understand information once connected. These people know how to put it into play economically. They have moved from the classroom to the canvas. They make raw material purposeful, and create a ladder for some as their work pulls it away from others. Most of the consequences are unintended, but all impact the community.
In the June 22nd issue of the New York Times there were two stories, a few column inches apart, that reaffirmed the gap between those with access and those who understand the power of access to thrive. I do not know if it was the editor’s decision to lay the story out this way, but the contrast was apparent. In one story, an Arizona (USA) woman making $10 per hour (when she could find work) was jailed upon getting into her car after an interview with an insurance company. If Shanesha Taylor had gotten that job (and she was confident that the interview had gone well), it would have given her real wages, health insurance coverage for her two children and dignity. The two kids were in the car because she could not afford day care and chose to take them along while she had her interview. The law reasoned that this was endangerment. Not unreasonable in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the car temperature was estimated at 103 degrees (F.) But people did not forget that this was a story about the Divide too. Through the Internet, money was raised for her defense and the media’s light found its way to Arizona. A settlement was reached a few days ago. She will not do jail time.
A few clicks below her story there was one profiling Yahoo Food and its marketing team. Their challenge was a bit different: they needed to decide whether to lure eyeballs to their site with a story about the history of foods from the ancient Silk Trail, or whether to publish a guide to cheese fries and other snacks that go well with ranch dressing. Decisions, decisions! Yahoo Food, whose sutra of wisdom includes “Treat Meat as a Condiment,” is an example of what we call the “lovely jobs,” in our new book, Brain Gain.
While we, the information rich, may be confident that our work is the equivalent of a divine endowment and will be rewarded, no matter how insipid, those stuck on the ladder trying desperately to use knowledge to find a job or to become more educated are not guaranteed success. Google CEO Eric Schmidt is “very worried” about this. His data suggests that the problem is getting worse. “If you look at the most recent studies of American economic growth, 99 percent of the people saw essentially no economic improvement over the last decade,” he wrote in his new book The New Digital Age.
What he didn’t say is that even among those of us in the 1% - including his company - yet another divide has formed. This is the dissatisfaction with knowledge work, or at least with “technology’s” impositions within it. Our mental health, psyches and purpose as individuals seem to be casualties of a crisis of the soul. It is a new inner conflict. Among even successful knowledge workers, the thinning of psychic reward is driving us toward burnout. We are grateful to be knowledge workers, of course, but too tired to give thanks! Tony Schwartz, whose Energy Project studies levels of satisfaction and sustainable engagement in the workplace, reported that only 30% of Americans feel engaged with their work. Globally, that number is a mere 13% Most people simply feel “overwhelmed.” In a study of 12,000 workers worldwide, 66% said that were absolutely unable to focus on one thing at a time at work – or probably anywhere else. The percentages of those feeling a sense of belonging, of connectedness to a community and a sense of overall satisfaction is low. Burnout has reached all the way to the CEO’s office.
What are we to make of the new wake-up calls? One is the impact on our communities.
I have been writing for years that communities were out of energy and out of balance until the concept of the Intelligent Community movement came along to raise the red flag. The Energy Project’s data confirms this. Even the foodies at Yahoo are too tired to produce much social capital when they get home after 16 hours on the job. And Ms. Taylor? Well, she needs to find a way to support her two children. Both suffer psychic fatigue.
While waves of middle classes continue to rise and thrive outside the borders of the mighty USA, the smiles on their faces as they shop their way through new stores and crank away in their comfortable cubicles, may fade. Their nations are catching up economically and technologically, and that is good. They are reaping the benefits from their parents’ generation. But what is next?
What we need to observe and to plan for in cities and communities is the creation of wealth that is sustainable because it comes with tools to use knowledge effectively in the next iteration of the economy. This includes ways to enable a deeper, more meaningful engagement at work, on the Internet and with our local governments and institutions. Oh yes, and with ourselves.
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