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Monday, September 23, 2013
Dusting off the Rust Belt

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Could you identify the Renaissance if you were living in it?  Or if it arrived in your home town?  We love to tag our era, no matter how inaccurate.  Here we are in “The Digital Age.”  (Not long ago, it was “The Space Age.)  Since the dawn of “The Nuclear Age,” we have lived in an “Age of Anxiety,” a phrase made familiar by a great Leonard Bernstein composition.  At its inception the Intelligent Community Forum coined its own phrase, “The Broadband Economy,” to give a blanket description to a global technological phenomenon.   

We name eras to give order to the unpredictable quarks of time.  I joked with my history professors, as I do now with audiences that the Renaissance began predictably.  People went to bed on the third Sunday of October 1502 and woke-up to learn that the Late Middle Ages were over.  What happened next?  Politicians promised that there would be no new taxes and an enterprising artist in Florence began making t-shirts that read, “Kiss Me, I Started the Renaissance.”


It did not happen that way.  The overlap and linkage between one period and the next ensures that causes will always be blurred. However, we DO know that there was a flourishing and a rebirth of culture.  Communities became canvases of a new type.  The printing press and other technologies and discoveries accelerated the introduction and distribution of ideas.  Learning – especially a rediscovery of old truths (the Greek Classics) was now central to forces pushing societies forward.  Observation, the essence of the scientific method, was similarly introduced.  The period that followed enlightened wider segments of the population.  The seeds of democracy emerged in Europe and in North America and finally reached all shores.  Science infused itself in daily life mandating collaboration.  We saw a period of progress led by learning, technology and the emergence of “open source government.”  

Sound familiar?

The cliché states that “history does not repeat/but that it rhymes from time to time.”  I would argue against that.  I believe it does repeat because there are universal truths. The challenge for every era is to give a new voice to these old truths.  To refresh community narratives so that they help us recover our best attributes and sustain us for at least three generations.

This lands me in one of the unlikely symbols of the new renaissance, the American state of Ohio.  Why Ohio?  I have been asked this question since we chose to locate our first North American Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community on the campus of Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio.

There are three reasons: OneCommunity, Dublin and Columbus.  

During the end of a miserable dark age in Cleveland, when nearly one in every three adults fell into the still sadness of poverty, a nonprofit called OneCommunity deployed a community-based broadband network to facilitate what is now the foundation of a new knowledge economy.  At our Institute’s symposium in October, you will hear Lev Gonick, the group’s founder speak about how the network became the new railroad.  So much so, that by 2005, Intel had named the region one of its there “Worldwide Digital Communities.”  In 2008, we named Lev’s partner, Scot Rourke, our Visionary of the Year.  The re-energizing of the troubled region is unstoppable.  Today, OneCommunity’s network extends 2,000 miles and it has introduced innovative ecosystems like its Fiberhood project to encourage entrepreneurship.  

Further to the south, Dublin, Ohio, known for its Memorial Golf tournament, played on a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, demonstrates that size truly does not matter.  With a mere 42,000 souls, the community, which rests on the edge of 15th largest metropolitan area in the nation, the state capital Columbus, creates more jobs than it has people to fill them.  “Rest” is the last thing Dublin does.  It too started with a broadband network which led to the region’s first new hospital in decades and sustains and girds more Fortune 500 companies per capita than any other place in the USA.  Dublin’s Deputy City Manager led the economic development and that is why Dana McDaniel was given the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Intelligent Community Forum. Dublin has the luxury of saying to companies that do not have the potential necessary to fulfill its vision of an Intelligent Community, “thanks for your interest, but we have no room.” 

There is room in nearby Columbus.  In fact, the two communities share room in places like the TechColumbus incubator.  They share the resources of the largest private research institute in the world, Battelle, and certainly benefit from being near and connected to the Ohio Supercomputer and America’s top-ranked metropolitan library.  While there is no art of a Michelangelo type, culture and the pursuit of excellence are robustly expressed in the competitive and rigorous expression of American football.  Non-sports fans persistently underestimate the positive role of athletics on cultures and behavior.  It was important to the ancient Greeks and is no different today, although shoulder pads, masks and helmets seem to be better!

The bottom line is that these two communities lead the state’s recovery and, with Northeast Ohio, have layered a knowledge economy atop an industrial powerhouse that many gave up for dead.  Brookings demographer William Frey reported that Columbus is one of a handful of cities that has reversed the brain drain so prevalent in the post-Industrial Age.  It produced 29,000 jobs in a two-year span.

What you find today in Ohio are Intelligent Communities and an Institute for the study of them.  There is a lot going on there.  The rust and the dusk of a dark period for this part of the world appear to me to be vanishing.  A rebirth is underway.  It does not happen overnight, nor does it come without pain.  The first Renaissance lasted 300 hundred years.  We cannot wait so long now.   If you can find rust in Ohio’s clichéd “rust belt,” please send me an email.

 
Monday, September 16, 2013
Smart China is Evolving in a GIG-Way (Sorry for the Pun)

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Someone let the cat out of the bag. I have been in China for many years promoting the smart and intelligent community movement throughout the country including at Langfang’s APEC Conference as well as in Tianjin, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Beijing and Hong Kong, among other cities. I brought mayors from recognized intelligent cities with me and promoted the concept at the Shanghai Expo. Chongqing, Tianjin, Tianjin Binhai, Jiading, Hong Kong and Shanghai were even recognized by ICF as Smart21 and Top 7 Intelligent Communities over the years. But for years there had been little indication of China’s broader interest in smart-city development in the same way as other countries around the world. However, that is changing!  Although China’s  smart city thinking is still in its infancy, it is nevertheless big and going to get bigger – in a GIG- way (sorry for the pun).

China plans Gigabit Internet speeds by 2020

Let’s get serious here - although China can boast the world's largest Internet population of Internet users (600 million or 44% Internet penetration), average Internet speeds currently tend to be at a meagre 1.7 Mbps compared to speeds nearing 10 times faster in neighbouring countries like Japan and Korea. In its new broadband strategy, launched to help stimulate China’s IT industry, 400 million households in China are expected to get high-speed broadband at 20Mbps by 2015; rural households will reach 4Mbps by 2015; and some key urban areas will even get access to gigabit (1000 Mbps) speeds by 2020. In addition it is expected that 85 percent of the population will have access to 3G and 4G mobile networks. China is the world's largest market for smartphones – accounting for 240 million units, twice the U.S. market. While there are significant plans ahead to create efficient, fast and affordable infrastructure in China, according to the China Internet Network Information Center, large numbers of Chinese (54%) still do not have access to computers and the Internet, nor feel they have a need to. In fact, in rural areas, Internet penetration is only at 28 percent.

China is tying its ICT sector enhancements to increased efficiencies as part of its urbanization strategies. Smart city strategies are no longer deemed just concepts by authorities, but rather are being accepted and implemented on a large scale. China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development is responsible for the promotion and implementation of urbanization in China and has indicated that it is “committed to carrying out city planning, construction, administration and operation by means of smart city strategies so as to achieve a low-carbon lifestyle, convenient services, and intelligence -intensive features.” Additionally, a Digital City Engineering Research Center has been established to ensure excellence in design, smart city indicators, standards and policies as well as providing guidance for the construction of smart cities across the country.

China selected 90 cities for its first phase of smart city development along with an additional 103 cities as pilot cities to implement smart city construction initiatives, representing 1.1 trillion RMB ($180 Million US). Chinese authorities predict as many as 600 to 800 cities in China will ultimately be engaged in Smart City initiatives valued at 2 trillion RMB ($325 Million US).

I predict that we will see countries and regions like China, S.E. Asia and India emerging as great proponents of Smart City and Intelligent Community development over the next decade as they look to be globally competitive and bring their communities in line with other cities and regions that will have developed as Smart and Intelligent Communities.

 
Monday, September 9, 2013
Nurturing Innovators, a Teacher Transforms New York City

On August 26, the godmother of New York City’s Silicon Alley passed away at the age of 88.  The story of her life says everything about the mighty, nearly invisible power of culture to transform a community.  

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You didn’t know Silicon Alley – the city’s nickname for its high-tech cluster – had a godmother?  Neither did I and I need to thank The New York Times’ Douglas Martin for bringing this milestone to a fellow New Yorker’s attention.  

clientuploads/Images/Red-Burns-Obit.jpgMrs. Goldie Burns, known to everyone as Red for the color of her hair, was not an engineer, inventor or entrepreneur.  She was not a venture capitalist or an attorney or a political leader.  She was a teacher.  Beginning in the early 1970s, she worked with a fellow professor at New York University to create a program called the Alternate Media Center.  The students in the program came up with a lot of pioneering stuff.  One example was a two-way TV system that allowed elderly residents of Reading, Pennsylvania (about 140 miles/224 km west of the city) interact with one another and with government support services. 

Then personal computers came along, and Red Burns refocused her program, renaming it the Interactive Telecommunications Program or ITP.  It created a refrigerator that projected a picture of a mother’s face on the back wall.  When a visitor took a box of chocolates out of the refrigerator, the mother image said “Yeah, that’s just what you need!  More chocolate.”

And when the dot-com era began, IPT rolled with it.  A 2007 student project put sensors into the soil around plants, which signaled over a telephone line when a plant was thirsty.  

Silly stuff?  Maybe.  But through projects like these, Ms. Burns helped ITP turn out 3,000 highly imaginative graduates.  Working for Disney, Microsoft, Apple, Google and small start-ups, they now make up the core talent that drives the success of Silicon Alley.  From 2007 to 2011, according to the Center for an Urban Future, almost 500 start-ups received venture financing.  That accounts for a 32 percent rise in VC deals at a time when other areas – including Silicon Valley – have seen a decline in new company financing.  

This is a critical change in the New York economy, which for decades has been dominated by finance and traditional media, and has suffered the severe ups-and-downs that come with being an almost-one-industry town.  Much of the credit goes to Red Burns, who was not an executive, investor, lawyer or other member of the American elite but an educator.  Her product was not video refrigerators or telephone-calling plants but a new culture of innovation ideally suited to the today’s intersection of computers, broadband, information and entertainment.  Thanks, Red.

Photo credit: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
 
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
So what's your Gig?

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In 2011 I visited Chattanooga, one of ICF’s Top 7 Intelligent Communities for an ICF site visit. Frankly, I had visited Chattanooga a couple of decades earlier and wasn’t impressed then, but today I was blown away. The winds of change had been kind to Chattanooga.  But the new kinds of speeds being discussed in Chattanooga today are daunting by any measure. 

clientuploads/Images/gig1.jpgAcross the shining boardroom table, Harold DePriest, the President and CEO of the Chattanooga-owned Electric Power Board (EPB) beamed as he told me the history of the EPB and their decision to be North America’s first Gigabit City. Propped by a stimulus grant of $111 million from the Department of Energy to accelerate the project, EPB began formulating plans for a Smart Grid network more than a decade ago. According to Mr. DePriest, Chattanooga's Smart Grid runs on a 100% fiber optic network, upon which EPB were able to add two-way communications up and down the grid not only at the smart meter but also to each of their 170,000 home and business premises. “Our three main goals for the $300 million investment in the network were to modernize our electric power infrastructure, generate the revenue for it to pay for itself and then most importantly to be a catalyst for economic development.”

Mr. DePriest proudly positions Chattanooga as the grandfather of Gigabit networks since its deployment was in 2009, well before others. City fathers saw the city-owned network more than just the city’s smart power grid saving $100 million each year from power interruptions.  Mr. DePriest and other civic leaders saw it as a springboard to Chattanooga’s future able to attract and retain talent and investment in new tech companies, promoting economic growth. To build on this, Chattanooga rebranded itself as “Gig City,” and to gain acceptance and develop new end-user applications it hosts an annual Gigafest.

Across the globe Japan, Korea, UK and others are now deploying efforts to become true Gigabit cities in the likes of Chattanooga. Asian cities and even whole nations are planning to be fully Gig-enabled. China is positioning itself to launch Gigabit speeds in key urban areas by 2020 and US Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has raised the innovation and job-creation bar by calling for US cities in 50 States to be Gig-enabled by 2015.

But what is so big about Gigabit Ethernet speeds anyways? Well for those not strapped into your seatbelts, it is hundreds of times faster than you currently surf over the Internet. 1 Gigabit equals 1,024 Mbps versus your father’s “fast Ethernet” at 100 Mbps, which most people never experience anyways. It’s more likely you might experience 10 Mbps over a shared coaxial cable or less, such as 2 or 3 Mbps in less expensive service offerings.

Mr. DePriest knows that his system is able to attract talent and investment to their community. The bar has been raised and before cities and countries know it, those without will be left behind. Another line has been drawn in the sand. Cities around the world already know this. Koreans enjoy affordable ultra-fast Internet speeds that allow them to download movies in an instant; watch high-definition television and do countless operations at a time in their homes while their fellow countrymen at work are able to work in real time with large datasets to solve industrial, biotechnical and business questions daily that would take 200 times longer elsewhere. According to Lee Suk-Chae, chairman of Korea Telecom, "in the future we will see a data deluge - data will explode all over the network". Cities and countries will have to prepare for it now. Seattle Chief Technology Officer Erin Devoto said Seattle’s gigabit network “is critical to our economic growth.” Likewise Kansas City Mayor Joe Reardon says that US cities are now recognizing the value of high-speed fiber-to-the-home connectivity as essential infrastructure.  “Much like we think of curbs and sidewalks and sewers - the kind of backbone that cities install in order to create positive economic and community development." The importance of this new line in the sand has not been lost on corporations either. On March 30, 2011, after more than 1,100 communities applied to be the first recipient of the high-speed technology, Google announced their Google Fiber network rollout in Kansas City with plans for Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah thereafter. 

With lightening Internet speeds Chattanooga and over a dozen cities in North America now have a great advantage over other communities although some will say that the costs to play are not yet affordable for the average user. But what will people be willing to pay in order to be able to download an encyclopedia in a blink of an eye and high definition movies in the time to boil water for a cup of tea? At speeds of 2 mbps, the latter would normally take 30 hours to download. With 3D images being introduced through Super HD, high speeds will be in demand. And with communities building networks to analyze big data for its municipal infrastructure, there will be pressure to make these networks more accessible and affordable to everyone in the community. If time is money, the level of community-wide impatience to get to this higher level of speed will surely become a factor. Koreans are already enjoying these advantages at affordable prices ($27 per month). With increased demand and use, it is likely that these higher speeds in North America will also someday be deemed affordable. Google announced in July 2012, that its Google Fiber network at 1 Gbps would be priced at $70 per month. But in Chattanooga the price is currently at $350 for 1 Gigabit. Chattanooga blogger Jim Yarbrough complained that “while it's great to have gigabit internet service in Chattanooga, I wonder just how much of a competitive edge it gives us. If Mr. DePriest is anticipating throngs of cyberpreneurs tripping over themselves to locate here, I hope he doesn't turn blue from holding his breath.”  In response, Ken Hayes, one of my hosts during my visit to Chattanooga wrote:

Chattanoogans should be proud of all the wickedly smart folks in this town that are working together to continue to make Chattanooga a leading progressive community. The cost of a gig is, more or less, a chicken and egg debate. What should be remembered is that the visionary leadership of EPB has caused Chattanooga to propel itself into the 21st century in a way unlike any other community in the U.S. There are thousands of U.S. cities that are envious of the fiber/ smart grid that has been deployed in our community, proven by the fact that over 1,100 cities competed to be Google's first fiber community. To compare Google's "announced" prices in Kansas City (which are in fact still in construction  and will likely take another 2-3 years before being fully deployed) to EPB's prices is not a fair comparison. While Google is adopting an overall marketing strategy for a global company, EPB has to follow a business model. EPB's 40,000+ customers have a minimum service of 30mbps symmetrical service, an astonishingly high connectivity that's faster than the vast majority of the rest of the world; the price for this service is extremely competitive. While there is almost no argument that the next generation of the internet will be super high speed networks, our community is very fortunate to be one of the leading cities of the world. As to the cost of a gig, as with almost all technological ventures, the cost will decrease as the demand increases. Hopefully, Chattanooga companies will be the leaders in creating this demand.”

Others will argue, why bother with a Gigabit debate when there currently is virtually no audience for these speeds given today’s applications, for which 12-14 Mbps are adequate.  But fiber companies and application developers are seriously looking at it as a game changer. As passionate as this debate can get now, it will in a very few years become commonplace, especially if the price can drop to meet demand. 

While breath-taking fast Gigabit enabled networks are available to educational institutions, and large businesses, and even governments, home use is the next frontier. For instance Santa Monica’s 10 Gigabit network is not available for general public use as its dedicated exclusively for business use. However, the reality is that since 1999 many Local Area Networks have been able to run Gigabit Ethernet and are in place now to service hundreds of millions of people, but very few gigabit applications exist. I have been told that it’s ironic that Gigabit optical transceivers are actually more economical than 100 Meg transceivers which would add to the argument to deploy Gigabit whenever new fiber-optic networks are installed. However current computers and routers aren’t built to sustain Gig-enabled transfers and until affordable end-to-end Gigabit-enabled applications are commonplace, this chicken or egg debate will continue. 

But this will not hold back early adopter cities seeking the competitive edge to attract foreign direct investment and to develop, attract and keep the talent that these cities need in a highly knowledge based global economy. Many are betting on Gigabit-enabled environments as the game changer for the coming decade.

So what’s your Gig? 

Cities around the world are lining up to follow in the footsteps of Gigabit-enabled Intelligent Communities like Chattanooga, Seoul, Hong Kong, Toronto, Vancouver and Bristol, Virginia. 

In North America we are seeing cities like Seattle; Kansas City; Lafayette, Louisiana;  East Lansing, Michigan; Morristown Tennessee; Burlington Vermont;  Springfield, Illinois;  Fresno, California; Omaha; Minneapolis;  Tullahoma, Tennessee, Cedar Falls, Iowa;  Chicago;  San Francisco; Austin, Texas; San Leandro, California; Provo, Utah; Lawrence, Kansas; Wilson, North Carolina;  Melrose, Minnesota; and Rural Central Missouri deploying or positioning themselves for heart-pounding speeds at 1024 Mbps.

Hold on to your hats, the speeds in your city will only get faster.

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Monday, August 26, 2013
They Took a Village

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“...Of your soul I make you captain. Most blessed among men. Move on. You will never hear from me again.” – Dante, The Divine Comedy 

The Finger Lakes Region, New York State (USA) - As the Summer begins to slowly give way to smells of Autumn in this part of North America, where native tribes once believed a Great Creator had pressed his hands into the earth and created eight of the most placid lakes on the continent, I am back in my hometown.  This is a place where the four seasons and nature mark transitions which pace the rhythms of life and, as such, its local economy.  Quarterly earnings reported here are tomatoes on the vine and soon, more seriously, wheat and apples.  They have a smell that only can come when the plants are located a few steps away.  The garlic and basil, eggplants and eggs all attract the eye of the region’s growing class of chefs.  The vegetables and fruits in the Finger Lakes would play well in Paris, New York or Stockholm.  They played like a Verdi opera once, long ago, in the kitchens of female immigrants from Reggio Calabria and Bari who settled there as their husbands found work.  

That music stopped and today neither the old railroad or the new one, broadband, is much top-of-mind.  Aging demographics and decidedly non-entrepreneurial attitudes still prevail.  While teenagers pore over their phones, they are not smartphones.  iPads are rare.  This is not to say there are none, or that people with ambition and hope have fled.  It is not so. In fact, some say, more and more people are taking up here than in times past.  Not more than in those times after the railroad stopped needing Italian and Irish immigrants to build and then maintain the first ‘superhighway,” or when dozens and dozens of private sector employers skipped out for better, cheaper and certainly faster climates.  

clientuploads/Images/Peppermint Blog1.jpgBut something good may be happening.  One can feel it.  A peppermint festival draws large crowds.  It reminds people that there was once an entrepreneurial spirit here.  It may subtly reinforce for them too that sentiment is no substitute for what really occurred during real “peppermint days,” when 90% of the land in the county was devoted to peppermint harvesting and the mint oil brought to nearby factories emerged into a dominant global industry.  Today peppermint is leveraged for cultural dollars.  Culture is capital.  Advocacy is also appearing.  A reporter from the Finger Lakes Times came to my mother’s front porch and interviewed me about my work.  Her editors knew that the “local boy” had left home long ago and not returned.  Now they want to bring the fruits of his work back to a familiar place.  Home.  Like the next door neighbors, the reporter was curious to know what the “rest of the world” is up to.  The trait of insularity, which is suspect of anything made too far south of Route 14 or too West of 31, much less Taichung, Stratford and Stockholm, is giving way to a type of rural cosmopolitanism that only the Internet and the urge to recapture the rhythm of the seasons  can deliver.

But wounds from missing the first salvos of the “Broadband Economy” are obvious.  An otherwise sunny and hot July was punctuated by the hard-edges that jut out when a place is not future-proof.    My mother, a robust 89, was hospitalized with a medical emergency.  Her stay in the local hospital revealed to me, painfully, what the people in Intelligent Communities from Dublin, Ohio (which has a paperless hospital) to Taichung know well.  Broadband networks and healthcare are as interlocked as the farmer and his peppermint were long ago.  The communications system in the hospital was so bad that my mother, admitted for diverticulitis, was served foods with seeds for two days because no electronic charts communicated to the dietary department that they were a no-no.  Simple stuff can kill you.  In this case, mercifully, it did not.  Otherwise, a lot of those Calabrian recipes would have vanished to Heaven.  But people move to places that are connected in all ways.  Connectivity equals rural health.  This is the rural imperative.

In an upcoming blog and in an article for Mayors & Cities, my colleagues John Jung and Robert Bell, will write about the power of broadband when it is harnessed to innovation.  Both make compelling cases for municipal networks and detail examples of successes, and the type of deal-making architecture that aligned need, pricing and social goals.  What is essential now is that the pie be taken from the sky on this stuff, and put on the table.  As Robert said in a recent interview on Gigabit Nation, “We are not talking about whether or not broadband is valuable.  We are talking about who is going to pay for it.”  

We know the price when the railroad and the boy leave town, never to return.   Fortunately, both are inclined to return.  As this warm season of rest and trial ends, let us harvest more fiber and return the villages to those who love them.

 
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