To Be Smart, Governments Must Address WiFi

The top 7 intelligent communities of 2009, drawn from a list of 21 across 12 nations and four continents, were named last month at the annual conference of the Pacific Telecommunications Council by the Intelligent Community Forum.

fiber optics in a lampAccording to the official ICF list, I notice that municipalities created public-private partnerships, collaborated with business and academic leaders and other government bodies, and rolled out miles and miles of fiber-optic cable.

Their collective goal is obvious. By intertwining economic development with technological infrastructure improvements, broadband access can be deployed and the digital gap can be narrowed.

Comparable to the ~17,000 population of my home in Newburyport, Massachusetts, I see that Bristol, Virginia is the only American community to make the ICF list. Its inclusion on the technology roadmap is due to their 11-year-old OptiNet, a municipal-owned and venture-backed fiber network that has a 62% market share across four counties and saved its customers–government agencies, schools, businesses, and residents–over $10 million.

The eastern Canadian province of New Brunswick can thank its cities of Fredericton and Moncton for making the ICF list due to their respective contributions of forming alliances with private telecommunications providers that created over 30,000 combined jobs in a decade.

Fredericton officials, facing a broadband access gap, founded a fiber-optic network called e-Novations and created the first, free, city-owned WiFi network in the entire country of Canada, providing speeds up to 18Mbps and covering over 65% of the city.

It’s a similar story in Moncton, where officials are drafting a Vision 2010 plan, calling for “partnership with regional universities to deepen the region’s knowledge economy, diversifying its IT economy into new sectors, and actively promoting tech-based entrepreneurship.”

Europe rounds out the list with smart communities in the Netherlands, France, Sweden, and Estonia.

Of note, the Eindhoven metropolitan area in the Netherlands is served by a public-private collaboration called Brainport, through which its 40 projects help to improve the regional knowledge economy “to maintain and accelerate growth in a hyper-competitive global market,” including outsourcing IT management systems for its public schools, implementing remote health care programs, and promoting technology education.

Issy-les-Moulineaux is worth bragging about, with its nearly 30-year-old tech innovation, including an electronic kindergarten class, citizen participation in deciding policies, business incubation, and real estate projects.

fiber optics undergroundThe Swedish capital lays claim to a 4,500-kilometer WiFi network, built in the mid-1990s by a firm called Stokab, that currently has a 98% broadband rate. It gets better: before the end of 2009, Stokab plans to create high-speed access to 95,000 low-income public housing tenants.

That’s impressive!

As for Tallinn, home to half of Estonia’s companies which receive 77% of foreign direct investment, the city built over 700 internet kiosks, developed e-government initiatives, and created a smart ID card.

Last fall, I praised the South Korean capital of Seoul for its internet soul that every global community ought to emulate.

I wonder which of these top seven telco-minded cities will succeed Seoul as the smartest in the world. Care to guess?

Photo credits: twilightjones and shrewd