The term “smart city” typically refers to any community that utilizes broadband to access technologies that optimize operational efficiency and enhance the user experience via remote sensing, data collection, and switching. But being a smart city is more than just making sure the infrastructure is available and accessible. It’s having a strategic plan for how the community will leverage connectivity, both now and in the future. A broadband master plan is the smartest investment a smart city can make. Here’s why and how to get started.
Available Connectivity Infrastructure It’s one thing to have good internet connections to homes, businesses, schools, and hospitals. For communities looking to bridge their digital divide, this is a good place to start. But for a city to be truly smart, taking advantage of all broadband connectivity can offer, it must consider good wireless/cellular available connectivity infrastructure coverage. This coverage allows for connected technologies like security cameras, smart lighting, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), smart parking, SCADA and AMI for utilities, environmental sensors, geofencing, etc.
Connectivity to support these types of applications can be accomplished in several ways, usually some combination of wireless, fiber, cable, and electronics deployment. This can include ducts and vaults in the ground, cable attachments on poles, cell towers, antennae on buildings and streetlamps, switching equipment, etc. This can be achieved by reliance on big telco companies (AT&T, Century Link, Charter/Spectrum, Verizon, T-Mobile, Google Fiber), new players in the market (SiFi, UTOPIA, C-Spire), and the emergence of municipal broadband programs (such as Huntsville Utilities in Alabama). Each program is different but can accomplish the same goal of creating connectivity infrastructure and services across a community.
The Value of a Broadband Advisory Council An important step in creating a broadband master plan is first creating a broadband advisory council. In addition to solving current connectivity challenges, civic leaders need to consider the myriad of ways better connectivity could benefit and serve their community. How could greater connectivity positively impact everything from water management and crime detection to aging populations and an evolving workforce?
We recommend that this team of strategists be established by civic leaders from the offices of the mayor, economic development, and IT department. Ideally, it is then comprised of members of the community, such as elementary school principals, church pastors, local residents and businesses, and local non-profit community groups. This group of local stakeholders is then supported by broadband technology professionals or representatives from private telecommunications companies. Together, this strategic group can begin to form the community’s broadband master plan starting with a community assessment.
Community Assessment vs. Feasibility Study You may have heard the term “feasibility study” in relation to community broadband. This has become a popular tool for assessing the level of broadband service in a community and then providing options to augment any network gaps. While there is some value here, the question of feasibility is a moot point. Everything is feasible given enough support. Foresite Group saw a greater need to truly understand each community’s unique needs, goals, and capabilities. We developed our four-phase program to include a Community Assessment, Broadband Master Plan, Program Implementation, and Technology Master Planning.
Our Community Assessment is intentionally inexpensive (between $25-50k) and has a short duration of 6-10 weeks. We look at the demographics of the community, what the community supported non-profit organizations are focused on, and the culture of the community based on their history, present status, and goals for the future. With this data, we can create a Broadband Master Plan that closes the gaps identified through strategic steps and financial modeling.
In short, cities have all sorts of master plans. Many have a streets master plan for repaving and improvements, a sanitation master plan, one for schools or parks and recreation, etc. But rarely do we see a broadband master plan. We believe that every community should take the initiative to identify its own unique vision for connectivity and then set the strategies and milestone goals to achieve those objectives. All members of an advisory council might not readily recognize the opportunities made available through technology solutions at first. That’s why we recommend a mix of civic leaders, locals, and industry professionals. Through research, education, discussion, and planning, the vision for a community’s future can come into clearer focus and effectively support the development of a comprehensive broadband master plan.
So, ask yourself if your city is truly smart. If your community doesn’t yet have a broadband master plan or a broadband advisory council, please give us a call.
About Lee Comer
Lee Comer is the Broadband Engineering Services Practice Area Leader at Foresite Group, LLC. He brings over 20 years of experience as a designer, supervisor, and project manager in the telecommunications industry. A native Alabamian, Lee earned his B.S. and M.S. in Industrial Design from Auburn University. With a passionate focus on improving the way people relate to each other, information and technology, and their environment, Lee translates his knowledge of design, construction, and installation of communication networks into a comprehensive infrastructure program to create connected communities.