Checklist Helps Urban Leaders Prepare the Foundation for Smart Cities

Today cities face more challenges than ever. Increasing urban populations puts additional pressure on existing infrastructure, which can result in things like more traffic, less affordability and reduced access to city resources. But the future is not all bleak; technology has the potential to enable new solutions and liberate cities from the problems that occur with fast growth.

There is a lot of talk about smart cities – or how connected technologies can create more efficiency and effectiveness, ultimately creating a better quality of life for citizens. And while the technical aspects can be hard to grasp, everyone can understand the tangible results from solutions like smart traffic signals that adjust to vehicle volume, which means less time stuck in gridlock. This is just one example of smart city solutions being created and piloted in cities all across the world.

The big question is how do we get from where we are today to the idyllic urban future where everything is seamlessly automated and connected? That’s where things get tricky. As I attend conferences, listening and learning from industry and city leaders, I consistently hear the request for guidance in the form of a road map. Smart city technology and the implementation of this technology is complex and so creating a “once size fits all” guide makes sense, but it is not an easy thing to do.

We have to start somewhere and so it is logical to begin at the foundational layer – the high-speed infrastructure on which connected technology runs. Today we operate on a 4G network, and based on our current mobile activity levels, our network capacity is already challenged.  Over the next few years, we will see an increase in both mobile traffic as well as the number of connected devices – the Internet of Things – which is further incentive to prepare for 5G – the next generation of wireless.

Creating high-speed, wireless infrastructure is a process that can be expensive and laborious for private sector companies.  So now is the time to incent greater investment in our wireless infrastructure by encouraging policies and regulations on the local and federal level that enable that activity. Creating a better, faster digital infrastructure is a vital part of our nation’s current and future prosperity

This is the idea behind the Next Generation Networks Checklist, a policy framework that is designed to help local officials proactively address the challenges of implementing the digital backbone that powers smart city technology. Every city is different but there are some common themes, issues and challenges.

The idea is to reduce the barriers to timely deployment of next generation networks by streamlining rights of way and creating clarity around permitting issues. Building fiber requires going through public property – like sidewalks, light poles and other physical elements. We walk by these things everyday and most of us don’t even think about them. But negotiating access and permission to thoughtfully work around those areas in order to lay fiber can be a quagmire of rules, regulation and red tape. What may appear to be small issues about who owns what and which department can provide which permit are the very things that can cause big delays.

The Next Generation Networks Checklist is grounded in the principles of transparency, collaboration and effective governance. City leaders are focused and dedicated to the best interest of its city’s citizens and this Checklist seeks to provide clarity about how to deliver that result.  Creating consistency in the process helps everyone. Cities can reduce the amount of administrative time and effort they commit, carriers can get busy building additional high-speed Internet capacity and consumers can enjoy the benefits that come from having greater speed in more places.

So where are the city champions who are doing this well? The push for 5G is still in early stages so it’s too soon to say which urban areas are checking all of the boxes. But there are a few early examples of cities that are heading in the right direction.

San Francisco, motivated by its role as host of the Super Bowl last February, wisely formed a public-private partnership to accelerate capacity during the big game. No one wants to experience network delays when videoing and sharing once-in-a-lifetime moments. And because this infrastructure is still in place, San Francisco citizens are still the winners long after the football game has ended.

Denver, Boston and San Antonio are also showing strong leadership in this area by declaring that access to high-speed Internet is a priority. Cities who get this right will be ahead of the pack related to economic development, education, workforce development and of course the convenience and connectivity that will result from smart city technology.

My hope is that this checklist will help cities streamline the layers of minutia so that they can concentrate on the bigger picture of deploying better and faster Internet for everyone. We are in a fiercely competitive global economic environment. Maintaining America’s position as the leader in network deployment starts at the local level. When cities get it right, everyone benefits.