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Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Net Neutrality: Bad in Theory, Good in Practice?

 “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice,” an aerospace engineer once said to me.  “But in practice, I find that there often is.”


Those two short sentences sum up a lot of wisdom about the net neutrality debate. 

In theory, there should be nothing wrong with allowing content providers like Netflix, YouTube and Yahoo to pay extra to broadband ISPs so that their content ends up in a “fast lane.”  Online video is swallowing up an ever-rising percentage of the Internet’s total bandwidth.  A fast lane should benefit users, and also the ISPs, which will invest that extra revenue in expanding services and increasing capacity.  In theory, everybody wins. 

In practice, however, there is high risk that a fast lane for some applications will put everybody else into the slow lane.  Dominant ISPs are very happy with their service models: indeed, the US cable TV industry owes its existence today to a farsighted decision in 1988 to found an organization that invented the cable broadband standard called DOCSIS. With so much TV and movie entertainment moving to the Web, can you imagine what their businesses would be like today without broadband?  One clear lesson from history is that if companies like their business model, they are not going to change it out of the goodness of their hearts.  That’s not how market economies work.

So the proposal of the President and FCC Chairman makes sense.  Broadband will be classified under Title II of the Telecom Act as a telecommunications service subject to potentially strict regulations – but will actually be regulated lightly to allow continued innovation.  Content providers and ISPs will still make money and users will still get their content, because market demand is such a powerful force. 

How do I know I’m right? I don’t.  But I think it’s a good bet for two reasons.  First, the new net neutrality policy basically continues the policies that have been in place since the Web was commercialized in 1994.  Every paying customer has equal access, every service provider pays for its own network and passes along traffic from other networks. 

In the past twenty years, the Web has had a revolutionary impact on how we work, shop, build businesses, learn, communicate, raise our children and worship our deities.  McKinsey & Co. estimates that it has produced 21% of all economic growth and created 1.2 million jobs in developed economies over the past 15 years.  Not bad for a 20-year old invention. Those who want to change to a different model must somehow explain why their model will produce a better outcome for the world than the one we have.

Secondly, broadband really has become a utility essential to modern life.   Britain’s Daily Mail surveyed 2000 adults in 2014 and asked them to name the products that have changed their lives the most.  Guess what came in first?  Broadband.  Second?  The Internet.  Fourth, after the also-useful washing machine?  Email.   In all, the Internet or Web-based services took 8 of the 30 top spots, along with such 20th Century breakthroughs as the refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave. 

At the Intelligent Community Forum, we see the impact of this utility everywhere.  We track the progress of cities and regions that are putting it to best use in building their economies, meeting social challenges and enriching their cultures.  No theory would have predicted that development back in 1994, when there were only 2,700 Web sites worldwide.  But it turns out that, if you give billions of people and organizations a chance to practice with the Internet, they create something of enormous value, whose impact is just beginning to be seen. 

Image courtesy Huffington Post.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Not everything can be Skyped: Reasons WHY you should attend the ICF Summit in Toronto


Summit15Why do people go to conferences, summits, seminars and roundtables? Why don’t we just sit in the comfort of our homes, sit back and turn on our Skype, WebEX or GoToMeeting online meeting services and do it all from there? Well, it’s clear that we no longer need to be at every meeting or every event. Skype, WebEX and any other media that provides an Online Webinar and meeting service will do just fine in most cases. And when they work, we praise technology from saving us from yet another trip.

But there is still that human factor – the sensory elements; the sounds, smells and images all around us; the happenstance of bumping into someone with a great idea or partnership in mind and the excitement of the crowds, especially those in a like-minded environment where conversation is easy, fun and invigorating. However not all conferences, seminars and similar gatherings are like that. Those are the ones you want to make sure you get on your Skype Horse and ride off into the sunset with it!

These gatherings should be important for the opportunities to connect, to be introduced, learn new things, become inspired and leave ready to take on the world. I recall a mayor at one of the previous ICF Summits in New York saying to his staff after viewing the presentations by another city of similar size, “heck, we can do that!” Then they went off and actually did do what they said they thought they could do and came back a couple of years later to be rewarded with Smart21 and Top 7 recognition. They might have never proceeded had they not been inspired by another community that they got to know well enough to be able to decide that they too would be able to do as well. And not all of it needs to be just inspirational… maybe a bit of competition can sneak in there too!

I also know of several communities that met each other at an ICF Summit many years ago and forged close ties with one another as a result. Through several years of developing friendships at the Summits, the mayors, staff, educational institutions and even companies began to visit each other, find out how close they were in similar attitudes, goals and opportunities , despite being separated by the great oceans and maybe even by languages and cultures. Another set of ICF Intelligent Communities formed formal Sister City ties as a result of getting to know each other through the Summit. And private sector firms are known to make an investment in communities that they have become familiar with through the ICF Summit. Those relationships are much harder to form simply through online meetings. 

When the Crystal Palace opened on May 1, 1851 in London’s Hyde Park, it started a movement to exhibit, experiment and demonstrate what was possible today and in the near future – from the first fax machine, first publicly available photographic process and even the first publicly available privy. It made it possible for people around the world to become inspired and opened up dialogue around new things and ideas that were possible. In 1995, SMART95, the world’s first Smart City Conference, held in Toronto, emulated these concepts – to show, dialogue and inspire. It was an opportunity to be in the first public experiment of bridging music over satellite and fiber-optic cables from great distances. This was an inspiration to those who attended, especially many Japanese delegates, who later demonstrated it as part of the opening of the 1998 Nagoya Olympics. It was also the first time that thought leaders came together to discuss the idea of mega-regions that could link the economies of the Rochester and Buffalo regions with Toronto via the Golden Horseshoe. Ideas such as smart buildings, smart people and even smart cities were discussed and the latest ideas of video-conferencing and digital education were introduced at this 1995 event.

Many critics of these sorts of events and gatherings focus on the waste of money and time in traveling great lengths to participate in them. But it’s really all about people, in 3D and in flesh and blood - something that you just cannot get from communicating over Skype, at least not yet. But perhaps it could be argued that it’s also a waste of our time and money every day that we travel to city centers to be able to be part of the mad morning and end of day rush hours so that we can gather in shiny towers close to one another. People gather in city centers to be able to take advantage of proximity to other people; the greater the critical mass the better in some cases. Look at New York City, Tokyo and Paris. You could go on a travelogue and explore them over your laptop or you can actually go there and be part of it, bump into people, be introduced, become inspired by listening to someone you just met through happenstance and so on…

OK, so I think I made my point. Everything has its time and place. Skype, WebEX and other online meeting services are great; we use them daily. But they will not be able to replace the excitement, inspiration and opportunity to bump into someone you need to bump into. I don’t think that Waterloo and Eindhoven would have advanced in their relationship without getting to know each other through the ICF Summits;  Allied Fiber recently opened up a carrier-neutral core network interconnection facility  called a Fibre Centre in Moncton, a connection that was made through relationships built through ICF’s annual Summits; and so on. Relationships – that is at the core of economic development and all that is related to it.

If you are pressed for time, here is a snapshot of the critical days you will want to attend:

June 8: Tours of Waterloo Region and Toronto (Pre-conference site visits)

June 9:  (ICF Summit Day 1): Toronto Tour (Morning only); Match-making Session and Borderless Community

June 10:  (ICF Summit Day 2): ICF Urban and Rural Master Classes and Top 7 Reception

June 11: (ICF Summit Day 3): Top 7 Plenary Session and ICF Awards Dinner

June 12: IDEAS Day – (Post ICF Summit) - a new annual feature in Toronto presented by ICF Canada, Waterfront Toronto and partner private sector innovators!

So here are the key reasons why people should attend the 2015 edition of the ICF Summit in Toronto:

  1. Education – learn about Intelligent Communities in a few short days through intensive site visits, master classes, seminar sessions and networking;
  2. Business and Investment opportunities – meet companies, institutions and important contacts and intermediaries at the match-making session on June 9 and through networking every day at the Summit;
  3. Learn how to apply to become recognized as an Intelligent Community – speak directly to those who have been through the process and network with communities and discuss the benefits of the ICF Intelligent Community recognition; and
  4. Networking – did I mention networking? Yes, lots of networking and great lasting contacts. Very much a like-minded community of people and organizations that is keen to share and help each other in the spirit of collaboration. 

Hope to see you there! Check out the evolving program,  speakers and opportunities at www.icfsummit2015.com

Monday, February 9, 2015
The Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2015: The year of “The No Name Cities”

clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaption-2013-140.gifThe best thermometer of how the world views the 2015 finalists for the world’s most Intelligent Community of the Year designation is best found in the press coverage.  This year the lesson is that dark horses have reached for the top. Forbes noted that the Top7 “are not the cities you think of immediately” as tech powerhouses.  The UK’s Independent said as much and concluded by saying that we can learn from them. Noting the population differences the Independent referred to Mitchell, SD (pop 15,000) as the “minnow” of the group. The South Dakota community, in the mind of the press, is swimming upstream in its quest for further glory in Toronto in June when we will announce the 2015 Intelligent Community of the Year.

The Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2015 are, in alphabetical order: Arlington County, Virginia, USA; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ipswich, Australia; Mitchell, South Dakota, USA; New Taipei City, Taiwan; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

My own surprise is balanced by what I have learned about places like these seven, and the group of 21 from which they separated. They want to future-proof themselves more than win a trophy. They are seeking how to provide political and social cover for themselves as they invest in the proper digital and human infrastructure and respond to the shocks of a global economy. In the current world economy there are surprises and unintended consequences that not even an economist can fully grasp.  Lawrence Summers. President Emeritus of Harvard and an economist notes that we do not yet fully know how tech impacts our economies. He compared it to the automobile industry, noting that the car did not reach the Consumer Price Index for measurement until 1935, a full twenty years after the formation of the Ford Motor Company.

So the seven are in just as much uncertain territory as a Singapore or London.  Like it or not.  They know, however, that sparks are flying and they want to host the bonfire. Most communities have been working on their programs for years, knowing that the dry kindling which catches fire is not a reliable source of heat, but if you bring proper combustible elements near it, something will happen. To be honest, I dismiss most of what the social engineers tell me and, like St. Paul and Martin Luther, two modern men in their time, subscribe to the power of faith and hope as a first-mover.  Why?  Because this is still what ignites healthy human passion. 

In the landscape of the revolutionary community that I chronicle, planning is serving much the same role. It provides a pathway.  It is radical stuff to read that places that have long done manufacturing or resource extraction are now using IT to not only give those industries a jump, but to move in other directions, such as healthcare.

Each of the Top7 has begun to find hope. As they are all growing cities or towns, they have put together impressive plans to channel their expansion. Planning was the new criteria that we established this year because it is so vital to transformation. There is never a specific guarantee that planning will spark and sweep through a community, but when it does, and when a framework like the Awards criteria is in the mix, it spreads light.  Good things start to happen. Statistics and doubt are insidious tools for combatting hope. They seem impregnable and infallible. But think again. Used without the poetry of a plan, they are the reflexes of the dead and dying.  

American author Leon Wieseltier writes in his new essay, Among the Disrupted, that we are “busy creating ‘metrics’ for phenomena that cannot be measured.”  As I look over the diverse and eclectic new group of Top7 Intelligent Communities – seven cities burning bright in five nations – and seek a subtext, you should ask what we measured and captured through our quantitative assessment.  Yes, they all have WiFi and broadband.  Ho- hum. That’s old news.

Where this group gets interesting to me is upon a deeper dive. The level beyond quantification.  Wieseltier complains that “where wisdom once was, quantification will now be.” So first, let us prefer wisdom.  Or if you are uncomfortable with that word call it “common sense.”  In a place like Surrey, Canada, it was common sense that a sprawling suburb, which grows by 1,000 souls per month and has a reputation for crime and dislocation, would do something about it. They have. They implemented an early childhood intervention program, among many other things, by working through their university.  This is the long-term plan while the city continues its rollout other plans to transform its economy and to build on the experiences of some early success.

The seven are each familiar with insecurity and doubt.  (Perhaps well earned!)  Upon first glance the names of at least three of these cities: Ipswich, Mitchell and Surrey read like a list of Who’s NOT Who. If taken on reputation alone, the elevation of Rio de Janeiro the only South America city in the Top7 might seem to be, as one twitter post indelicately put it, “A choice that could be made only by crazy gringos.” (Forget that the two groups that selected Rio were academics on four continents and a research house located in India). Civic pride, when damaged for a decade or more, is like the patient in psychotherapy.  It is only over time and much hard work and commitment to the process that a true change takes root. In Rio it has. For sure. Columbus, Arlington County and New Taipei City are more polished and have been through the flames, but not until they too had gone down a rough road. Hope was justified. They remain the front-runners, in my view.

At the end of a televised Skype interview with a network news anchor, I explained why Surrey, British Columbia, the fastest-growing city in Canada, and the one that journalists seem most curious about, had been selected as a Top7.  The anchorman, reflecting the skepticism of his viewers, concluded by asking me, “Does Surrey really have a chance of being named Intelligent Community of the Year?”

I said it had a legitimate shot.  If you apply the metrics, it has a one in seven chance.  Not bad for a no-name city!

Monday, January 19, 2015
Getting From Smart to Intelligent

On January 22, ICF narrows its 2015 list of 21 really smart communities to a short-list of 7 intelligent ones.  Those two words – smart and intelligent – are often confused or often used to mean the same thing. But I think they describe very different realities.

clientuploads/Images/Bell-Blog-Reboot-Comm-2.jpgEvery Intelligent Community we have seen is a Smart City.  That is, it invests in information and communications technology (ICT) to deliver services, monitor operations and rejigger failing systems.  That is good news for taxpayers, businesses and institutions. 

Not every Smart City, however, is an Intelligent Community.  While Smart City technologies make cities work better, Intelligent Community strategies create better cities, where people and organizations thrive and prosper in the global broadband economy. 

Intelligent Communities make sure they have the broadband and IT infrastructure they need to be competitive.  But they know it is only a means to an end.  More of their energy goes into developing a workforce able to do knowledge work.  More effort goes into crafting an innovation ecosystem where business, government and institutional partners create high-quality employment and meet social needs.  More emphasis is placed on expanding access to digital skills and technology for those otherwise left out.  More work goes into engaging citizens as advocates for progress. 

I would offer examples from the rich trove of this year’s Smart21 communities, but will have to wait until after our much-anticipated announcement.  In the meantime, I can point you to a worthwhile article from a Swedish Web site on innovation management.  Lidia Gryskiewicz and Nicolas Friederici looked at the “innovation hubs” that are popping up in cities across the world and tried to understand what makes them work. 

In their view, innovation hubs are a different breed from incubators and accelerators.  The latter tend to have tightly structured programs and development milestones.  They are focused on preparing start-ups for the scrutiny of investors, and providing their network of investors with a “deal flow” of interesting opportunities.  It is essential and valuable work. 

Innovation hubs focus instead on something called “impact.”  It could be financial but is just as likely to be social or cultural.  They embrace fluidity, encourage serendipity and work to create a sense of community.  Instead of R&D labs, they host innovation jams and hackathons.  They are all about energy, momentum and encouraging collaboration toward a shared mission. 

If your job is to generate a steady stream of start-ups, that sounds pretty wooly.  But if you want to create an environment where innovation can flourish, it makes sense. Out of it may come a great idea for a profitable business, or a new way for an existing business to frame its challenges.  Or maybe just a makerspace where hobbyists can fool around with the latest technologies.  In either case, it is building a social foundation, a platform of trust and commitment among innovators, on which great progress can be made.  And that sounds pretty intelligent to me.    

Wednesday, January 14, 2015
The Myth of the “First 100 Days”

clientuploads/Images/Zach-NameCaption-2013-140.gifOver the past 100 days the people have spoken. In several important cities they decided to lift their voice and open the exits for several incumbents.  New mayors and elected officials were sworn in among several Intelligent Community Forum Foundation cities, including three Intelligent Communities of the Year, Toronto (2014), Taichung (2013) and Taipei (2006).  These champions replaced familiar, popular and controversial leaders.  The most notable for me was in Taichung, Taiwan.   

There was a hard-fought campaign which revealed the degree to which democracy has taken root in Taiwan.  When the votes were counted, Dr. Jason Hu (Hu Chih-chiang), who had served as mayor since 2000, was narrowly defeated by a former protestor, the youthful Mayor Lin Chia-lung.  The new mayor won his office, in part, over issues familiar to most democracies and cities today: a growing economic rift among citizens.  In both Taipei, which also elected a new mayor, and Taichung, the cause of the growing disparity is attributed to China’s overinvestment in Taiwan’s real estate industry.  This has caused housing values and costs to rise.  Beijing’s behavior in Hong Kong and “incumbent fatigue” also fed the insurgency of Mr. Lin.

Mr. Lin assumed office on Christmas Day and comes into office like a tsunami, promising that his “first 100 days” will be used to sweep the city (population 2.7 million) off its feet with honest reform and programs that actually work.  He promises to make the trains run on time, after he finishes building the system, which he and many think has taken too long.  I have seen it.  It will be a model for the world whenever finished.  He refers to his first 100 days as “the honeymoon” period.  He, like other politicians, seems sure that the first 15 weeks have magical powers to transform even good places - which Taichung certainly is - into even better places, which we hope it to be.  I have no reason to doubt his sincerity or that of his transition team, many of whom have been brought in from outside the city for its purgation.  I wish him well, and look forward to meeting him, since Taichung is a key Asian member of the ICF Foundation

I have never been one to interrupt a honeymoon, and think of ICF’s cities as reformers also.  But when time allows I want Mayor Lin and the others holding their new brooms to examine the sincerity of their promise to make all things new in only 100 days. 

This is a notion that political leaders have embraced.  I can only conclude two things if so: 1) That politicians by and large think alike and 2) That they rely on public relations more than is necessary.  This stuff is a PR stunt and it is misleading.  It is a disservice to citizens and ignores the facts of how progress really occurs.  Taichung’s unemployment rate is 4.6% and, among its many economic and social virtues, it has 23 universities connected to industries and giants like Taiwan Semiconductor that continue to make Taiwan an economic marvel.  With a new opera house and an emphasis on green development, it fast became a cultural center for the nation.

New mayors and councils know full well that governing is more prose than poetry; more policy than PR.  What matters are not the 100 days, but the four-year terms to which they are empowered to serve.  As I look through the prism of truly successful communities studied by ICF I know that the success of Intelligent Communities occurs as leaders realize that they are obligated to set in motion intergenerational projects whose results, unfortunately, may be harvested by future councils and mayors.   I am not naive.  I understand that no one can truly run a campaign promising a better future that will actually come to pass in the Future.  But that is a fact and it would be nice to hear someone admit it while campaigning.

The originator of the “100 Days” concept, the American president Franklin Roosevelt, would understand this.  He might point out that his actions during the first 100 days of 1933 were not a matter of public relations, but of long-term national survival.  In his moment America’s banks had collapsed, its unemployment approached 25%, while communism and facism had become appealing ideas for political reform.   The first “100 days” were actually a footrace to save the global economy and to keep its moral center from imploding.

As I was reading Mayor Lin’s bold assertions over my New Year’s holiday, I learned that the former Governor of New York, and a man I admired as a mentor, Mario M. Cuomo, had died.  Aside from my father, there was no other man I revered more for his quiet intelligence, mentorship and integrity than Governor Cuomo.  He was an aberration in the political world, which was the nature of his appeal.  His world view was informed by his ability to not only remember where he came from but also to be profoundly thoughtful and honest in public at all times.  He detested dishonesty at any level and always told it precisely as it was.  He was elected to three terms. 

I am sure that Mayor Lin and others will follow this unique path toward true intelligent leadership.    

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