The Risks and Rewards of Municipal Broadband: Broadband is the most important infrastructure investment a community can make, especially as a new generation of connection is upon us: ultra-broadband

A smart city is really about the application of data, the acquisition of data and how do we apply the data analytics to make better decisions. For me and the way I look at how we gauge smart cities, it’s about making better decisions with better data. In many cases, automating decisions that can be automated frees us up to actually focus on the decisions that require the most mental horsepower. – Charlottee CIO, Jeff Stovall

In Government Tech, by Jaime Espinosa, 8 Feb 2018

As communities across the country plan their future in the context of a competitive global economy, ensuring a robust broadband infrastructure is paramount — especially because a new generation of broadband is upon us: ultra-broadband. Communities must develop a plan that includes a path to broadband connectivity, while minimizing the inherent risks that come with executing it.
Ultra-broadband enables much faster speeds than broadband’s first generation, typically 100 Mbps or faster. It delivers low latency, helping satisfy requirements for emerging applications like telemedicine and virtual reality. Typically delivered by a deep fiber broadband network, ultra-broadband ideally drives fiber all the way to the locations where people live and work.
Beyond important end-user applications, ultra-broadband also lays the foundation for a smart city, enabling communities to fully participate in the “gig economy.” Smart cities are more efficient, saving taxpayer money through lower operational costs. Smart cities also provide a better means for civic engagement, ensuring communities can best leverage the many talents of their citizens and increase citizen satisfaction.
Community investment in ultra-broadband also drives economic development. Communities who lack it are at a disadvantage to those who provide it. Both consumers and businesses now look for ultra-broadband connectivity when making stay-or-go decisions in any given community. In fact, a recent study by RVA LLC for the Fiber Broadband Association found that access to ultra-broadband ranked only second to safe neighborhoods as a factor for relocating to a new community. Like any major infrastructure investment, building a network comes with risks. These risks include the obvious financial ones, but also partner and operational considerations. When evaluating risk, it’s important to put ultra-broadband into proper context. It is the most important infrastructure investment a community can make.
While there are risks inherent with building and operating any network, there are arguably greater risks to communities that let the opportunity pass them by. Technology has made the world much smaller, and communities are now in global competition with each other. Competing means attracting and retaining knowledge workers and the companies who employ them. The largest long-term risk to a community’s future may be missing out on the benefits of an ultra-broadband network:
  • Leverage infrastructure for economic development — The engine for stability and growth for any community is continuing economic development. Gross metropolitan product (GMP) is an economic measure of the value of all goods and services produced within a metropolitan statistical area (MSA). Research sponsored by the Fiber Broadband Association found that GMP growth for communities with a 60 percent or better penetration of fiber to the premises (FTTP) was 64 percent higher than those with FTTP penetration of less than 25 percent. While ultra-broadband by itself does not guarantee improved economic development, there is no question that without it, economic development is significantly more difficult.
  • Prepare communities for 5G wireless opportunities — Movement to 5G, the next generation of wireless technology, is already well under way. To function properly, 5G infrastructure requires a fiber-rich broadband network, like that deployed through an ultra-broadband network. 5G wireless will bring tremendous improvements over today’s 4G environment, but will also be a major factor in job growth and economic development. Management consulting firm Accenture recently performed a study that indicates 5G could create up to 3 million jobs and add approximately $500 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).The benefits have a local impact as well: “The [Accenture] report findings show what an incredible opportunity there is in local economies,” said Tejas Rao, managing director and Mobile Offering Network lead for Accenture’s North America practice. “5G-powered smart city solutions applied to the management of vehicle traffic and electrical grids alone could produce an estimate of $160 billion in benefits and savings for local communities and their residents.”
  • Deliver fiber to the people — While much economic attention is focused on attracting new citizens and employers, communities can’t lose sight of their own important populations, including younger demographics. It’s no secret that young people favor technology and the technology-driven applications enabled by ultra-broadband networks. Whether it’s virtual reality or the ability to study at any university across the globe from the comfort of home, young people crave technology. They are digital natives and they choose to live, work and spend in areas that support their digital lifestyle.
Many communities throughout the country and all across the globe are already embracing the economic development and other benefits of ultra-broadband, and they’re gaining a competitive advantage in our increasingly connected world as a result. Communities heading into 2018 without broadband capabilities must evaluate how they will keep pace — a finding that will inevitably lead to the need for development and therefore understanding of operating an ultra-broadband network.

Jaime Espinosa is manager of carrier networks business development for Corning Optical Communications. He has more than 18 years of experience in the industry, currently working together with integrators and network operators in the municipal broadband space to promote the deployment of FTTx networks. For more information, please email, or visit

Excerpt from:

…when we talk about what makes Charlotte smart and why Charlotte is a smart city, it’s really about the application of data, the acquisition of data and how do we apply the data analytics to make better decisions. For me and the way I look at how we gauge smart cities, it’s about making better decisions with better data. In many cases, automating decisions that can be automated frees us up to actually focus on the decisions that require the most mental horsepower.

S&RC: How did you begin to utilize data in this way in order to make better decisions?

JS: I think Charlotte, like many other cities, has been creating huge sources of data for decades. We didn’t just start this yesterday. Particularly in the late ’90s, when we started automating more systems and moving to more server based systems, we started trying to figure out what data we are going to get from our transactions, what data we are going to get from the public at large and how do we start to aggregate that data and analyze that data in ways to make better decisions. What has happened, particularly since the advent of the cloud and of mobile technologies, is there has truly been an explosion of data, so the question is now, “How do we make sense of the data that we have and can we use it to really process our decisions at a finer level than where we came from before?” Where we are now is an evolution from where we started 20 years ago and now we are looking at mass techniques for analyzing that data and getting it to the right consumers inside our organization.

S&RC:  You talked about public safety in the panel you were on today, is that one of the areas where data has been helpful in making more informed decisions, and if so, are there any more example cases you can point me toward?

JS: I think if you look at the local public sector as a whole, public safety is one of the areas that you’ll find there is the most intense use of data. From the days of CompStat to what we are doing now in terms of collecting video and being able to analyze that video in real time, I find that public safety has a use case for the technology that they invest in that is very compelling. Nobody wants to be in a situation where they are not enabling their first responders and public safety officials to have the very best information they can in order to prevent and respond to crime or incidents of any kind. Our police department  implemented predictive analytics between 2009 and 2010, so they’ve been doing it for a long time, but they’ve been refining their models they’ve been refining their techniques in order to get greater value out of it. As we move into other departments outside of the public safety realm, what we are finding is that departments that have dedicated revenue streams are more interested in starting to pursue that because they function a lot more like private businesses in their decision making structure than the rest of the government.

S&RC: Can you give me any examples of how they function like a private sector business and how they used data?

JS: There are three major Enterprise departments: our transit department, our water department and our aviation department. Our aviation department is basically a land owner for all the airlines and vendors that occupy our airport. They are very much interested in understanding what their revenue model ought to be based off of traffic that comes through the airport and has been able to utilize the data that they have for traffic and vendor patterns to be able to be one of the lowest cost airports in the United States on a per plane basis. We are one of the busiest airports in the United States, and that’s mostly because of through-traffic not because of originating traffic so we can utilize the data and the analytics we get there in order to fine-tune patterns of how we set up our facilities, how we service our facilities, so we actually are service providers to the tenants that our in our airport and we use that data that way.

S&RC: How about in the water department?

JS: The big thing in water in terms of predictive analyatics and use of data they have is trying to really predict when do they anticipate failures in water systems because we have pipes that are many decades old so being able to predict the failures and preventative maintenance more than failures before they happen is a huge cost and time savings for the water department.

S&RC: On the topic of cost savings, you mentioned how you entered into a public-private partnership with public safety earlier in your panel. Can you elaborate how that came about and how P3s enter into how the city of Charlotte makes decisions?

JS: I want to clarify; the private-public partnership is extremely broad. I mean it could include anything you do with a private entity. What we did with the police department is we worked with a vendor to develop a platform around our predictive analytics that was unique and custom  to Charlotte, but still at it’s core could be replicated for other cities. So when I was referring to that partnership, that was not something we could have done with internal resources alone. It was something that did require the expertise and the ability of the vendor to come in to serve not only in the software provider role but also in the integrated role of being able to bring together many different software solutions and integrate them so we could use them for the city of Charlotte.

S&RC: Do you make any use of other P3’s in other departments or agencies?

JS: The use of P3’s in a very broad sense has been relatively limited but there have been some opportunities. Most of the opportunities that we use in P3s have not been supported necessarily towards what I would call “smart city” type of implementations. We are looking at a P3 right now that we call the Smart District but the P3 that is involved in that is really a real estate play in a lot of ways so that’s not necessarily a smart implementation in terms of generating and processing  and analyzing data, but it is a way of being able to fray some of the initial costs associated with investment and development of a certain area to be a Smart District in order to be able to generate the types of interest in that area that would bring people to it and revitalize it. We are very much interested in trying to find out what are the mechanisms we can do to bring economic vitality to the areas that are having a hard time and P3s are a great mechanism to doing it.

S&RC: Can you describe what’s going on with the Smart District you just mentioned?

JS: There is an area that is quite north of the Uptown area that we are working to develop into what we call a Smart District. We’ve identified this area as a Smart District for several years now but what that means for us is bringing more knowledge work into that area. It’s mostly an industrial area and there is some housing in that area but what we find in that area is there just in not a lot of economic activity. So we want to stimulate economic activity and we think this is a great place. The city has made investments already, we are going to put our joint communications center in that area, we’ve already put a fire headquarters in that area to kick start activities in that area but we know that we need to do more. This is where a P3 will likely come into play, as we are working with a private developer to actually create a facility that would be used for start ups and for other companies that are looking to implement a more technologies-focused product range.

S&RC: There is always only so much a city can do to create a innovation district with a lot of mixed use business space, how are going to attract a young tech savvy workforce into this area?

JS: On the private developer side, one point is really creating a space that is priced in a way that smaller companies would be attracted.

S&RC: Is there a pipeline to attract workers?

JS: Yes, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in in the north end of Charlotte. I work pretty closely with that University on a number of issues and products, as I’m on the board. We also Johnson C. Smith University, which is a historically black university in the city limits, and we have Queens University, which is also in the Charlotte city limits, so we have an academic community that exists. What we are finding is that there are more students who are matriculating out of undergraduate who are interested in starting their own businesses, particularly from the University of Charlotte which produces more computer science graduates than any other university in the Carolinas. It’s the largest institution, so typically the pipeline from that institution is one that goes from  University to corporate because we have a very high demand for corporate I.T. in Charlotte, especially for banks. We are also trying to encourage there are also needs for people to find career paths that  do include entrepreneurism.

S&RC: If you’re averse to the term “Smart City,” how would you brand Charlotte?

JS: The thing I would say about Charlotte is that we are focused on being a winning city.  We do see ourselves in competition with other cities for residents, for businesses and for visitors. The elements that we are attuned to are what does it take for us to win, win those residences, win those businesses and then we how want to use technology as an enabler for how we win versus focusing on being smart, which often starts to look like technology for technology’s sake. We want to avoid that particular path, we think that’s a dead-end path.

S&RC: How do you differentiate Charlotte from the other cities that are doing the exact same thing?

JS: I think that’s the million dollar question. What does differentiation look like in the public sector? From my perspective, I think public sector organizations haven’t really thought of themselves in terms of differentiation and competition thoroughly over the past decades. Now there is starting to be some notion that this is something we need to focus on as public sector entities. Often times, that means not just focus on individual jurisdictions. That’s one of the reasons why we don’t typically think of ourselves as competition, but looking at the whole broad regionalism  that goes along with it and what does it take for the region to be competitive which means going across jurisdictional lines and being able to have shared goals, shared objectives and shared needs to achieve those objectives. This tends to be a very challenging thing to do in the local government sector.

S&RC: Have you made any efforts to reach out to regional partners? I know Atlanta is big in that space , but how would you define region or how many partners do you have in your jurisdiction?

JS: Absolutely, we reach out to our aligned jurisdictions on a regular basis and we are always trying to find ways that we can work together. However, I can honestly say that if the drive is not coming from the top of the organization in terms of regionalism, it makes it very difficult for CIOs or planners to just to get together on their own to make that happen. It has to be something that’s a concerted effort, has to be driven from leadership and it has to come from a place of this is how we distinguish. This is how we innovate, this is how we are going to make ourselves different from those other regions.