This is a guest post by San Leandro, California Councilmember Corina Lopez.
As Congress prepares for the 2018 midterm elections and looks ahead to infrastructure legislation in 2019, I am proud to represent a city that has taken its broadband future into its own hands. We will work to ensure Congress includes broadband into a larger infrastructure package in the coming years. The city of San Leandro has already spent several years investing in fiber and wireless technologies to spur economic development and improve residents’ lives.
As part of the National League of Cities’ (NLC) ongoing campaign to call attention to the nation’s infrastructure needs and how the federal government can partner with cities, the city of San Leandro held a press conference in October to mark the ribbon cutting for new free public Wi-Fi service in Marina Park. As one of the city’s largest public parks, it attracts tens of thousands of visitors per year. In the coming months, we will launch free Wi-Fi in at least six other city parks spread out across many neighborhoods throughout our community.
During the press conference, Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter said, “In San Leandro, over 22 percent of residents have no broadband service at home. Public Wi-Fi can help close that gap and help students keep pace in school work, assist residents in finding city and other government services online, and support job training and searching…the work we see being done now is only a fraction of what can be done with infrastructure investment in cities, and technology is only one area where we can continue to grow.”
Public Wi-Fi in Marina Park is far from San Leandro’s first public investment in broadband infrastructure. Indeed, this expansion is just the latest step in our city’s Fiber Optic Master Plan for broadband infrastructure. For several years, the city has worked through a local public-private partnership known as Lit San Leandro to operate and expand fiber optics in various parts of our community. This investment has served as a catalyst for the growth and expansion of advanced manufacturing and other technology businesses in our city, with over 350 local businesses now getting gigabit high-speed Internet service through the Lit San Leandro fiber loop.
In addition, Lit San Leandro has enabled us to provide high-speed interconnectivity at nearly all of our local public schools. Investment in this open-access network has also allowed the city to reduce its internet service costs by nearly 50 percent while achieving 20 times faster internet speeds. As a result, we’ve been able to offer free Wi-Fi in all of our libraries, community centers, city facilities, downtown, and, as noted above, we’re now expanding to public parks. As testament to these efforts, the city has won a number of national awards for its innovative approach to driving economic development and closing the digital divide.
Expanding free Wi-Fi in our parks is of particular importance to me. As a former school board trustee, I know firsthand the important role internet connectivity can play in supporting youth education. Over 70 percent of teachers now assign homework that requires an internet connection to complete, yet nearly a quarter of our households don’t have that internet connection at home. As a result, many local families must rely on mobile devices with expensive data plans. By investing in our public spaces, we are not only making them beautiful and safe, but also important places to work and play.
The city of San Leandro isn’t stopping here. We recently converted the city’s street lights to smart LED bulbs, which are saving millions of dollars in energy costs and greatly reducing our carbon footprint. These lights are connected in an Internet-of-Things (IoT) network and can be controlled and monitored remotely, thereby improving the efficiency of city operations and allowing rapid response to maintenance needs. We also continue to utilize the fiber optics network to connect our traffic signals, which are managed by an advanced traffic management system, to improve traffic flow along targeted areas of city streets. Looking ahead, we expect to install even more connectivity-enabled improvements throughout our city that will benefit transportation services, public safety, connect the underserved and improve our local quality of life.
However, not every community has the resources or capacity to replicate all that San Leandro has been able to achieve. In too many places, cities lack the kinds of partnerships that San Leandro was able to leverage with our fiber infrastructure. In nearly half the states in the country, cities are legally prohibited or otherwise constrained in their ability to make public investments in broadband infrastructure. As vice chair of NLC’s Information Technology and Communications Federal Advocacy Committee, I have worked with other city leaders to advocate for these types of investments and to oppose impediments to related local efforts.
In order to close the digital divide for all residents and further unleash economic growth, federal and state governments must invest more in broadband infrastructure of all kinds, including both fiber and wireless. Furthermore, we will need federal officials and their state counterparts to cease preemptive legislative trends that have tied cities’ hands and prevented public or public-private solutions from taking root. By increasing collaboration and public investment across the local, state and national levels, I am confident that we can significantly improve public broadband access and ensure a brighter future for everyone.
About the Author: Corina Lopez is a partner of Pinnacle Vista Technology, LLC, an IT management consulting company. She serves on the San Leandro City Council and is Vice-Chair of the National League of Cities Information Technology and Communications Federal Advocacy Committee. Lopez is dedicated to promoting and expanding public Wi-Fi, innovation, and Smart City solutions. She is a leader in introducing and expanding free public Wi-Fi throughout San Leandro and bringing high-speed interconnectivity to the San Leandro Unified School District. Beginning as a parks and neighborhood advocate in San Leandro over 15 years ago, Lopez has advocated for her community on the local, regional, state, and national level.