Cities around the world increasingly recognizing the impact of internet and connectivity

Everyone is talking about the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) as being the next industrial revolution. There are varying estimates of how many devices will be connected, including the latest that suggests the IoT will connect 28 billion things to the internet by 2020. In order to have the benefits of the economic and civic upside of the IoT beyond just smart meters, many places need to improve the infrastructure that allows lots of sensors embedded into everyday products to connect to the internet and provide meaningful data to local and national service providers – including healthcare authorities.

That’s probably why we’re seeing more local government initiatives like the launch of Next Century Cities in the USA, and the SuperConnected Cities project in the UK, and the Digital India project in India. There are of course many national broadband connectivity plans in countries ranging from Australia through to Brazil.

The Next Century Cities launch in Santa Monica, California, USA, this month, is a city-to-city initiative dedicated to ensuring the availability of next-generation broadband internet for all communities. The cities and their elected leaders are joining together to recognize the importance of leveraging gigabit-level Internet to attract new businesses and create jobs, improve health care and education, and connect residents to new opportunities. The launch, held at a coworking space for Santa Monica’s technology companies, convened mayors and leaders from 32 cities for a cross-cutting discussion about what’s worked in their cities and how to support next-generation networks nationwide.

At the launch, city leaders agreed on the importance of next-generation broadband for thriving 21st century communities, with input from Federal Communications chairman Tom Wheeler. They also had group discussions between local government representatives and technology officials, and looked at the potential of gigabit Internet connections for cities. Deb Socia, executive director of Next Century Cities, said, “Across the country, city leaders are hungry to deploy high-speed Internet to transform their communities and connect residents to better jobs, better health care, and better education for their children.”

The UK SuperConnected Cities projects looks at the challenge slightly differently. The government set aside an urban broadband fund of UK £150 million to create 22 ‘super connected’ cities. What this really means is that the government provided vouchers worth £3,000 to small and medium sized businesses to connect to superfast broadband through national delivery partners.  According to TechWeek Europe, the superconnected cities vision was originally intended to provide the cities with funds to build superfast broadband and public Wi-Fi networks, but legal challenges from internet service providers meant they had to dilute their ambitions to a grant scheme offered to businesses.

In India, enabling better connectivity is being addressed through the National Broadband Plan, introduced in 2010 by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which has allocated around Rs 600 billion ($9.8 billion) to build the optical fibre network throughout the country. The plan aims to provide affordable and reliable broadband to 600 million subscribers by 2020.

The government re-enforced this message this month, saying it would help bridge the digital divide in India by enabling 50,000 villages with broadband connectivity by the end of this fiscal year. It also said that another 100,000 hamlets would be connected by 2015-16, and another 100,000 rural habitations will be connected by 2016-17.

Creating smart cities is in the interest of the major telecoms equipment providers too, as they look to figure out how they can effectively monetize the network infrastructure better. For example, Cisco is working with a number of cities to create ‘smart and connected cities’ – with the latest location being in Mexico.

Cisco will advise the Guadalajara Ciudad Creativa Digital project to help create a world-class hub of digital media development and become a Smart+Connected™ city, based on global best practices from the work it says it has done in cities like Barcelona, Toronto, Hamburg, Rio de Janeiro and Guayaquil. The city of Guadalajara will deploy a pilot project on city infrastructure, telecommunications and urban services, as it works towards becoming a global digital audiovisual production node, and foster creative industries which would include TV, cinema, interactive multimedia, digital animation, e-learning, apps, and video game development.

“Technology plays a significant role in urban transformation, reinforcing the competitiveness of cities and its capacity to attract talent and investments. We are pleased to participate in this project with the city of Guadalajara, offering our experience designing smart cities and helping them to become the first creative cluster in the region working under this concept,” said Jordi Botifoll, president of Cisco in Latin America.

The pilot in Guadalajara would involve the following projects:

  • City administration: smart building design, city wi-fi with multiple connections to city systems, urban command center;
  • Citizen services: citizen collaboration platform, connected plaza with multiple technologies;
  • Street-level urban services: examples include smart public safety, smart parking, smart traffic, smart lighting, smart waste management, smart environment.

There is indeed significant momentum in many of the initiatives worldwide on connecting cities, people and things. Governments had already recognized not many years ago that connectivity was important for their local and regional economies, but they probably hadn’t reckoned on change happening so fast, and technology moving so fast.

It’s clear now that with technology underpinning almost every aspect of modern life, these initiatives will be built upon quite rapidly. Indirectly, this has become a golden opportunity for technology companies that can demonstrate to local governments and authorities they are able to play a part in improving people’s lives, and the local and regional economies.

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