High-Speed Internet? For Cities, It’s About Dollars and Sense

Originally posted at Smart Cities Council.
By Liz Enbysk.

An NPR report highlights the broadband beating that College Station, Texas faces. Councilman James Benham says high-tech companies – and the jobs that go with them – are fleeing his city because it can’t offer the faster, cheaper broadband that other communities can.

“We have lost countless companies to other towns because we cannot provide the level and cost of connectivity,” Benham says.

Case in point: The NPR story talks about a “super-advanced” engineering company in College Station that has to copy the big 3-D models it designs onto a portable hard drive and mail them to clients because there’s no high-speed Internet in the part of town the company is located.

Councilman Benham believes connectivity ought to be thought about and planned for just like a city thinks about water and energy and other critical infrastructure. “The worst thing, I think, a city could do is sit back and do nothing and wait,” he told NPR.

And that’s the dilemma. It costs cities like College Station when companies and jobs flee town. But the price tag on superfast fiber-optic networks is sticker shock for most cities. Some are lucky enough to have Google Fiber or other providers shoulder the burden.

Louisville, Kentucky’s chief of economic growth and innovation told NPR he received hundreds of emails when Louisville didn’t make the latest list of Google Fiber cities. He says Louisville is actively seeking a broadband provider because Louisville will not go it alone.

Still, some cities have done just that. In 2011, the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Council Global Partner S&C Electric completed the installation of a smart grid that is becoming the backbone of a smart city, with measurable benefits. Installed by the Electric Power Board (EPB), the community-owned electric utility, the project encompassed EPB’s 600-square-mile service area. Among other things, it included high-speed Internet, voice and video access for all residents and a city-wide Wi-Fi network for use by the city and utility.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke told NPR the high-speed Internet is helping attract new businesses to his city.

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