For the last two decades, there have been varying degrees of interest in the concept of an Open Access Network. What is Open Access? Some party, usually a local government, chooses to build a physical broadband network and then leases access to service providers who wish to connect subscribers.
The model is compelling because the municipality builds a physical network that de-risks service providers, who might otherwise not recognize a reasonable return on investment across the community. This promotes competition in services to the benefit of subscribers. Those economics led to the emergence of several successful Open Access Networks around the world. But today, when the COVID19 pandemic has made clear that broadband is an essential service, it’s quite possible Open Access Networks have seen their day.Read more
The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) has released a comprehensive ranking of intelligent communities ranked by Connectivity, one of the criteria of intelligent communities in the ICF Method.
The list ranks Intelligent Communities in our global data set using data on communities submitted from 2015 through 2019. This data is carefully weighted to balance the self-reported and third-party data of the Smart21 evaluation and the data from later stages of evaluation that is subject to onsite validation.
Not just for big cities any more
One of phrases we like to use at ICF is “There’s No Place Like Home” – and, with strong broadband connectivity, it is increasingly possible for smaller communities to keep their citizens home, as they can now participate in the global broadband economy from anywhere. With many smaller communities seeing the value in this, it is no longer the exclusively the biggest cities that have the best broadband connectivity. While five of our top ten communities have over 1,000,000 people, the other five all have under 300,000, with two communities having under 100,000 people.
Broadband: The New Essential Utility
Broadband is defined in different ways in different places. All agree that is an "always on" service, but minimum expectations for speed range from 2 megabits per second up to 10, 20 or 50 times that.
Whatever the speed, the power of broadband is simple enough to express. It connects your computer, laptop or mobile device to billions of devices and users around the world, creating a digital overlay to our physical world that is revolutionizing how we work, play, live, educate and entertain ourselves, govern our citizens and relate to the world.
We’ve identified five approaches taken by communities that we study:
- Development policy
- Networks for government
- Public-private partnerships
- Dark fiber and open access networks
- Direct competition
ICF bases its evaluation of communities’ success on a number of factors, including:
- The availability and adoption of broadband
- The cost and programs the community has developed to drive availability
- Levels of broadband adoption and competition
Communities completing ICF’s questionnaire have the option of requesting a detailed Metrics report comparing them on multiple factors to the Forum’s global data set on Intelligent Communities. See Community Accelerator for details.
The ICF Rankings: Connect 2019 list is the latest publication in ICF’s By The Numbers series. It provides a useful guide to the relative strengths of communities in ICF’s network, and an inspiration for greater progress in coming years. Future By the Numbers rankings of intelligent communities will be released by ICF in the coming months.
1. Montréal, Quebec, Canada
The largest French-speaking city in North America, the Montréal Metro Area is home to more than a tenth of Canada’s population. The region was hit by the decline of heavy industry in the Eighties, and launched a large-scale transition of its economy to ICT, aerospace, life sciences, health technologies and clean tech. Together, these clusters contain more than 6,250 companies employing about 10% of the workforce.
A Smart City plan introduced in 2014 is the most recent contributor to this transition. It focuses on further build-out of the city’s wired and wireless broadband infrastructure, as well as deploying technology to make city services and systems more efficient and creating a collaborative ecosystem involving business, institutions and citizens.
The city owns its own electric utility, which has contributed to an 81% Internet penetration rate, with most connections at high speed. Current plans call for build-out of free WiFi across the 17 square kilometers of the central city. An open “citizen laboratory” already invites participation in incubating social technologies. An aggressive train-the-trainer program operates from 85 centers to equip community leaders with digital skills, which also help the significant portion of the population who struggle with basic literacy, a legacy of the city’s industrial past.
2. Taoyuan, Taiwan
Taoyuan is the largest industrial science and technology city in Taiwan. More than one-third of Taiwan’s top 500 manufacturing industries have set up factories in Taoyuan. The industrial output value of about 2.87 trillion NTD has led all Taiwanese cities for 14 consecutive years. The population is a fusion of many ethnic groups such as Minnan, Hakka and Aboriginal people. Because of the industrial development, Taoyuan is also the municipality with the largest number of foreign workers from Southeast Asia and the largest number of Vietnamese new residents.
Taoyuan initiated the i-Taoyuan Free Wi-Fi 2.0 project in 2016 to optimize the city’s existing wireless network services and expand the city’s free network environment of hotspots. As of 2019, the project has established 5,000 free wireless hotspots throughout the city with plans in place to expand four high-traffic areas into hot zones with wider coverage. Chunghwa Telecom has set up its own network of 5,236 CHT Wi-Fi hotspots with 400 access points as well, distributed in all public areas for use by the general populace. In addition to setting up hotspots, Taoyuan has worked with local providers Taoyuan City Telefirst Cable Communication Co., Ltd., North Taoyuan Cable TV Co., Ltd. and South Taoyuan Cable TV Co., Ltd. to ensure that broadband service is available across the entire city.
With Internet access available so widely in the city, Taoyuan has developed the Smart District and Village System. The system connects 13 districts and 495 villages and neighborhoods in Taoyuan City with the city’s many government departments, allowing citizens to access up-to-date transit information and providing local businesses with an online platform to offer their mobile services. Taoyuan is also introducing smart parking and location systems to car parks in those districts and has deployed a dynamic information system for the city’s buses. Taoyuan Metro now provides free 4G and WiFi coverage and smart services as well.
3. Espoo, Finland
In 1950, Espoo was a regional municipality of 22,000, which drew its name from the Swedish words for the aspen tree and for river. Today, Espoo is still a place on a river bordered by aspen, and about 8 percent of its population still speaks Swedish as its first language. Sixty-five years later, however, it is an industrial city of 270,000. It retains its dispersed, regional nature, however, being made of up of seven population hubs arrayed along the border with Helsinki, where many of its citizens work.
In 2010, Finland’s Parliament made history by declaring that access to 1 Mbps broadband is a legal right. Today, Finland ranks second in the world for mobile broadband adoption, according to the OECD. It is also one of the leading countries in Europe for ultra-broadband adoption, with more than 50% of households having access to a fixed connection of 100 Mbps.
In such an advanced broadband economy, it is natural that the Intelligent Community of Espoo would take a next-generation approach to improving broadband access and adoption. With the explosive growth of mobile data, driven largely by video, the city sees a serious risk of capacity bottlenecks threatening city digital services and throttling the future online experience of residents. Its answer is LuxTurrim 5G, a three-year pilot project that engages Espoo companies and research institutions in evaluating smart light poles as transmitters for 5G, the emerging mobile standard that promises hundreds of megabits per second of service. The light poles will include miniaturized 5G antennas and base stations, sensors for smart city systems and digitally controlled LED lighting. Launched in the spring of 2017, the project aims to create a proof-of-concept for the technology integration and then to start building an export business for the city’s partner companies.
4. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Waterloo is the smallest, geographically speaking, of seven cities that make up Canada's Technology Triangle. Small in size it may be, but this second-time Top Seven honoree casts a big shadow in terms of technology-based growth. The Triangle itself is home to 334 technology companies and another 404 providing related services that employ about 10% of the labor force, but account for 45% of job growth. Among the seven communities, Waterloo is home to 40% of the high-tech firms. Its recent history illustrates the power of getting a few critical things right and then working together to nurture and manage the resulting success over time.
Waterloo’s local government has engaged actively with business and citizens in planning for a prosperous future. A Strategic Resource Information Plan developed in 1990 set the pattern for data-sharing and integration among agencies and pointed the way toward the 1998 introduction of the award-winning, Internet-based Waterloo Information Network. Today, Waterloo offers a wide range of online services, from the minutes of council meetings and city program registration to tax assessment tools, interactive GIS maps and marriage license registration.
With 76% of businesses and 47% of households on broadband, and 75% of adults using the Internet, Waterloo is already a broadband economy success story. The challenge the community has set itself is to sustain and accelerate its success in a global economy that competes harder for investment, talent and ideas with each passing year.
5. Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Toronto has both the assets and the liabilities that come with being Canada’s largest city. On the asset side is its diverse economy, with key clusters in finance, media, ICT and film production, and success as a magnet for immigrants that have made it one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Major carriers offer high-quality broadband to 100% of residents, and its five major universities and multiple colleges have attracted 400,000 students and helped ensure that Toronto has more residents with undergraduate degrees that London.
Toronto’s policies are heavily focued on the value of a dense, superbly equipped and culturally rich urban experience. The centerpiece is Waterfront Toronto, North America’s largest urban renewal project, which is revitalizing 800 hectares of brownfield shoreline with 40,000 residential units, parks and one million square meters of commercial space designed to the highest environmental standards. Offering 1 Gbps fiber-based broadband– provided at no cost to the 10% of housing set aside for low-income residents – the Waterfront is expected to offer a home to 40,000 new jobs focused on knowledge industries. Early commercial tenants include the Corus Entertainment and the George Brown College Health Sciences campus.
6. Hudson, Ohio, USA
Hudson is a prosperous suburban city that provides talent to the region's many employers. Its population is highly educated, with 68% of residents over age 25 holding a bachelor's degree or higher, and relatively young, with a median age of 39. Median household income is in the six figures. Its downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places. But like Intelligent Communities everywhere, it is a place in transition from one economy to the next. Hudson seeks to secure its future at a time when smaller communities without a distinct competitive advantage are seeing their human, economic and cultural assets drained away by bigger places.
In late 2015, Hudson began construction of the Velocity Broadband Network. That milestone was the end of one journey and the beginning of another. As internet access became essential to businesses, the city began hearing more and more complaints about lack of reliable, affordable connectivity. The largest companies in town could afford dedicated high-capacity service but small-to-midsize companies – the backbone of employment everywhere – could not. A survey of residents and businesses in 2015 made clear that coverage, speed, performance and reliability were a big issue. Some business people reported regularly leaving town for a café with internet access because their own service was so undependable.
Today, Velocity Broadband offers business customers a symmetrical 100x100 Mbps service with capability up to 10 Gbps. More than 150 business customers subscribe to internet service and voice-over-internet-protocol telephone, producing revenues that exceed operating costs. In addition to satisfying existing users, Hudson has seen direct impact on business attraction. For the previous ten years, one of the city's primary business parks had only one tenant. Since Velocity Broadband started service, the park has added five new buildings and is close to being fully occupied.
7. Issy-les-Moulineaux, France
Issy-les-Moulineaux, a city just across the Seine from Paris, has an employment rate close to 96%. More than 75% of its companies are in information and communications technologies. Issy’s employers today field a workforce that is slightly larger than the city’s population, because so many companies have moved out of central Paris to take advantage of its infrastructure, business-friendly climate, lower local taxes and innovative services.
In 1994, the Mayor challenged city departments to create a comprehensive Information Plan based on study of the evolution of the Internet in the United States. The Internet was then in its infancy: 1994 was the year when Netscape, creator of the first commercial Web browser, was founded in California. Under the plan, completed in 1996, a Steering Committee representing municipal departments and elected officials was created to oversee investment in projects and maintain focus on objectives. The Steering Committee’s founding led the city to adopt the Plan Local d’Information (Local Information Plan) with the goal of transforming Issy into a “digital city.”
But policymaking was never a substitute for action. By 1995, Issy had free Internet access – with the fledgling Netscape browser and the new Internet Explorer – in its Media Library. Issy’s first version of an e-government portal was already online in 1996. By 1997, the Council added interactivity to its cable and Internet broadcast of meetings, inviting citizens to ask questions by telephone or email and get an immediate response. Public participation began to climb. Whereas few residents bothered to attend Council meetings in the past, nearly half regularly participate remotely today. In 2002, Issy created a Participative Budget-Making Platform that enables citizens to help in setting local investment priorities. (Its latest generation includes an online game for children 7 to 14 that challenges them to test their knowledge of local finances.)
Service was expanded in 2005 with the IRIS "citizen relationship management" system, through which citizens could make inquiries or lodge complaints online, via telephone, email or mail. By 2010, Issy had extended e-government to the mobile user, with mobile phone payment of parking fees and an array of mobile remote support services for the elderly. Today, the portal (www.issy.com) provides local news, online public procurement, online applications for certificates and permits, access to more than 15,000 documents, air quality and weather updates and a variety of other services.
8. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Melbourne is Australia’s second largest municipality and the capital of the state of Victoria. A leading financial center, this city of 130,000 is at the center of a metropolitan area of 4.5 million people and is hub for the Australian film and television industries. In 2016, The Economist named Melbourne as the world’s most livable city for the sixth year in a row.
Australia, however, ranks 48th in the world for the speed and services available over broadband, due to a long history of monopoly and duopoly markets. That has put Melbourne’s people, institutions and businesses at a disadvantage in reaping the economic and social benefits of the digital revolution. As a midsize city, Melbourne has many competing service providers but also significant gaps in coverage outside its central business district. A group of frustrated Internet users teamed with a community-led pilot project in Melbourne to create Lightning Broadband, which uses a mix of optical fiber and wireless to connect high-rise apartments and business customers at 100 Mbps. Rolling out in Melbourne suburbs now, it is targeting a national build-out in areas underserved by private carriers and bypassed by Australia’s National Broadband Network.
9. Regional Municipality of York, Ontario, Canada
York is a very unusual municipality. It is actually an amalgamation of nine cities, towns and townships that was founded in 1971, as well as a reserve where the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation reside. It covers more than 1,760 square kilometers (680 square miles) from the northern border of Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, to rural area on the shores of Lake Simcoe, in what the Canadians like to call “cottage country.” It is about as diverse – geographically, economically, socially and politically – as a community can rightly be.
Geographic size and diversity bring benefits and challenges. The southern cities and towns are well-served by private-sector broadband carriers but as in any other urban-rural community, less-populated areas are not. To overcome the digital divide, York launched a Regional Broadband Strategy in 2014 to identify connectivity strengths, gaps and opportunities. A Broadband Strategy Advisory Task Force comprised of local Mayors and Regional Councillors was formed in 2015 to guide the execution of the Broadband Strategy. This included the formation of YorkNet - a corporation created to manage and oversee the expansion of York Region’s open access dark fibre network to support the operational requirements of York and its local municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals. Private carriers are also able to leverage this network to enable the delivery of services to businesses, institutions and residents.
Among its prouder achievements was the 2015 installation of an Ontario Research & Innovation Optical Network (ORION) point-of-presence at Southlake Regional Health Centre in the Town of Newmarket and the completion of a fibre connection to the York University Campus in the City of Toronto. ORION is a high-speed fiber network dedicated to research and education, which connects more than 2 million users including advanced computing centers across the Province of Ontario. The ORION Point-of-Presence at Southlake makes the network more accessible to York’s municipal governments, schools, local incubators and healthcare facilities; allowing the same connectivity and computing assets as the most advanced R&D institutions in Ontario.
10. Chiayi City, Taiwan
Chiayi is a provincial city of 270,000 in southcentral Taiwan, midway between Taichung and Tainan. Ninety-five percent of its economy is in the services sector – wholesale and retail, transportation and warehousing, and accommodation and food – which employs three-quarters of the workforce.
Chiayi government and private carriers have blanketed the city with 1,000 Wi-Fi hotspots, ranking second for density in the nation. Over an 18-month period, more than 1.5 million users accessed the network. To support adoption, it created a government-citizen committee to hold public hearings, seminars, online idea generation and voting on priorities and projects. At the urging of that committee, Chiayi also completed an open data platform in 2016, which contained 279 information entries as of August 2017, with many more on the way. The city has also established an E-Service Counter that provides single sign-on to more than 500 applications used by 210,000 subscribers.
To further spread E-Service access throughout the city, the Chiayi Transportation and Tourism Department is currently in the process of introducing intelligent bus stops with 4G WiFi services available on their buses. The city has also equipped its 59 neighborhood directors with tablet PCs connected to the city’s open data platform and E-Service applications, allowing them to function as mobile service stations for their neighborhoods. These directors can now help residents with information inquiries, online application usage and city surveillance reporting, among other services.