This week, as part of Infrastructure Week 2018, we’re celebrating innovative approaches to funding and building infrastructure — while calling on Congress to rebuild with us and invest in a modern nationwide system.
While America’s major metropolitan cities have taken center stage in cultural debates, the nation’s smaller cities and towns have a culture, vibrancy and uniqueness all their own. Even as big urban centers are introducing high-tech ideas for governing, there is much creativity and dynamic problem-solving going on in communities with populations fewer than 50,000 residents.
The city of Mooresville, North Carolina, decided to establish high-speed internet as a basic utility to which all citizens have access. Through a robust technology infrastructure, the city can now better equip its students, citizens and businesses with the tools necessary compete in a global market.
Schools have access to the fastest Internet speeds available, and each student in the district receives a school-issued laptop or tablet. Additionally, the strong data network provides low-cost internet to citizens and businesses, fostering economic development, supporting municipal planning and even enhancing disaster relief.
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In 2007, the city of Mooresville and its neighboring communities filed to jointly buy a local cable company after it went up for sale. The cost of the company was $64 million. After a lengthy process, the coalition of cities gained control of the company and its fiber-optic network. That same year, the Mooresville School District began its “21st Century Digital Conversion.”
Having secured access to a high-speed telecommunications network, Mooresville sought advice and help from such industry experts as Apple and Discovery Education. In keeping with the educational goals outlined above, it annually leases MacBook computers and iPads from Apple on three- or four-year contracts.
The funding for this equipment and software updates comes through city and school district budgets and is partially offset by reductions in costs for textbooks. Additionally, the district has received grants from such sources as Lowe’s Home Improvement to support equipment costs or make various upgrades.
The Mooresville School District, which has grown in population size served while withstanding state education funding cuts, has been able to maintain over 5,000 laptops and tablets and support a large information technology staff. The use of one-to-one technology has been an essential factor in managing increasing class sizes, which in some cases have grown up to 50 percent.
The city also has partnered with local internet service provider My Connection to offer broadband service at home for as little as $9.99 a month and to offer the service free to families with children eligible for free or reduced-cost meals.
Since beginning this venture, the city has received acclaim for its actions, including from President Barack Obama, who visited the local middle school in 2013. Students from kindergarten to grade 12 each have their own computers, and every classroom has wireless Internet access.
Graduation rates have risen, and the city has seen a dramatic reduction in the performance gap both between black and white students and between wealthy and poor students. In other areas, Mooresville used its enhanced geographic information service technology to help Niagara Bottling Company find a new home in existing facilities just outside of Mooresville.
Today, all city parks and municipal buildings offer public access Wi-Fi to 100mbps while sports venues webhost live footage of youth sports so that out-of-town parents can watch their children play.
For more information on innovative solutions from America’s small cities and towns, read NLC’s report Snapshot of Small City Success. Lead Photo: Mooresville Graded School District.
About the author: Jim Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.