Who Needs a Gig?

September 20, 2013

By Tyler Whitten

Last year, the National League of Cities, in partnership with Next American City, published a case study which looked at the Google Fiber initiative taking place in Kansas City, a ground breaking partnership between Google and Kansas City to bring gigabit-speed Internet service to homes in the at an affordable price.  NLC also blogged about Chattanooga, TN and Danville, VA, communities which have built their own gigabit networks, and looked at some of the challenges and opportunities around community-run high-speed Internet networks.

Local leaders understand the importance of a strong telecommunications infrastructure and are beginning to rethink the way they do business through technological innovation.  But why the need for speed?  The following piece, which was reprinted from Broadband Communities Magazine, outlines why gigabit speeds are so important and how exactly they can help meet community goals.

Who needs a gig? The question comes up a lot these days, and it’s an important question to ask. Consumers often hear that more than 90 percent of Americans have access to broadband. Sounds as though that’s a great number – until someone compares the United States to the rest of the world. This country currently ranks near the middle of the pack (average about 16th place) in terms of penetration rate, actual and advertised speed and overall costs. The current broadband state just doesn’t cut it.

So, why a gig? Shouldn’t providers be more focused on raising broadband penetration rates at existing speeds? What uses are there for a gig? Milo Medin, vice president in charge of the Google Fiber project, answered these questions soundly at this year’s FTTH Council Americas Community Toolkit Conference when he stated, “The slowest Internet speeds you will tolerate are most likely the fastest you will get.” If communities continue to settle for slow speeds at higher prices than Internet users in the rest of the world pay, the United States can expect to fall behind in other key areas, such as business, education and health care. That is probably one key reason Julius Genachowski, former FCC chairman, issued the Gigabit City Challenge. Here are Optica’s top five reasons a gig should be every community’s goal.

FIVE: MORE RESPONSIVE AND EFFICIENT GOVERNMENT

Most people have experienced long waits at government agencies, waiting to fill out forms or pay fines. Imagine having the ability to fill out most forms online at any time. Elected officials could hold virtual town meetings with constituents, allowing all voices to be heard and represented.

Want transparency? Imagine being able to live stream city council meetings and then keep video archives on the town website so citizens can see what has been discussed and become more involved in the issues. State and local governments would have the ability to share data in real time, speeding up processes and helping reduce costs, something both sides of the aisle can agree on. All those features require a strong broadband infrastructure with high speed, lots of bandwidth and nearly universal access to be effective.

FOUR: IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE … IT’S SAFETY APPLICATIONS

As nice as it would be to have a superhero in every city, it’s just not realistic (actually, it’s impossible). However, gig-enabled networks can empower local heroes with next-generation applications that can help them save lives, respond quickly and ensure safety. Diversion Solutions LLC in Red Cloud, Minn., is a perfect example of the development of new public-safety applications. The company has developed driving diversion programs, drug diversion programs and sentence monitoring; all help reduce crime and make use of Red Cloud’s robust fiber network. At the FTTH Council Community Toolkit Conference, Diversion CEO Scott Adkisson discussed new applications the company plans to roll out. One application allows people to send videos or pictures of crimes from cell phones directly to headquarters and then back to first responders in real time; another allows people to send maps of buildings and the best possible routes in and out to avoid danger. Such apps really can take safety to the next level.

THREE: GRASSROOTS BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

Business development is more than an “if you build it, they will come” scenario. Fast broadband is helping cities grow businesses in several ways. One that has gotten a lot of press coverage is Homes for Hackers in the Kansas City Startup Village. Entrepreneurs are flocking to Kansas City to get access to speed and bandwidth at a price that is out of this world. Unbounded access to the Internet allows them to grow their companies and develop products and services that have never been possible before. Everything from 3D printing to sports photography can be found here. Danville, Va., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lafayette, La., have also seen tremendous growth in their business markets. Highspeed broadband complements other attributes of a great community, such as great health care, low cost of living and recreation opportunities.

TWO: CONNECTED CLASSROOMS

Strong education drives a growing society. In an age in which cuts to education budgets are nearly universal, high-speed broadband can be the answer to keeping education strong. Students can take virtual field trips to anywhere in the world. Career ideas can be fostered as students watch a surgery or explore the world of an engineer. New technologies can help students with special needs read their notes, save lectures for further watching and gain access to different methods of learning. Slow Internet speeds and broadband bottlenecks hamper many of these applications; high-speed broadband can set students free.

ONE: TELEMEDICINE FOR TOMORROW

A lot of people rave about keeping costs down when it comes to telemedicine, but the discussion goes much further than that. Telemedicine can save lives. Records can be shared in real time to help prevent adverse reactions to medicines, mistakes can be reduced using technology such as Pyxis MedStations, and physicians can help diagnose patients in remote locations via high-speed connections. Cleveland, Ohio, uses telemedicine to do in-house checkups for diabetes patients. Students from area high schools have built carts that allow them to set up in-house conferences with physicians and pharmacists, allowing them to check vitals and discuss ways to manage disease.

Tyler Whitten is the marketing coordinator for Optica Network Technologies, a network design, construction and management company based in Omaha, Neb.