Muni Wi-Fi lives

NEW YORK -- Riverside, Calif., using a municipal broadband network to overcome the digital divide and mobilize various sectors of the community, won the coveted 2012 Intelligent Community award last week.

This marks the first time in more than a decade that a U.S. community has won the award, handed out by the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), an independent think tank focusing on broadband-economy development.

MORE: San Jose Wi-Fi net could mark rethinking of 'muni Wi-Fi'

Riverside was chosen from among seven finalists, and almost 400 applicant communities. An agricultural region once known primarily for its citrus groves, the Southern California city has built a free Wi-Fi network that provides 1Mbps access at 1,600 locations throughout the city of 300,000 population.

Riverside succeeds Eindhoven, Netherlands, which won last year on the strength of its renaissance industrial policy. [See: "Broadband bling goes to Dutch region"]

Like Eindhoven, the city of Riverside, whose development motto is "Seizing our Destiny," developed its network against a backdrop of decay and policy stasis. As with all of the more than 100 cities participating in the worldwide Intelligent Communities movement, the Riverside enterprise is characterized by intense collaboration of all sectors in the city -- private, government, and civic. Especially critical is the participation of its local educational anchor, the University of California, Riverside.

Mayor Ron Loveridge, who this year finishes 32 years elected service to the community, accepted for the city's delegation. He responded to the award declaring, "It honors Riverside's excellence in so many of the key markers of success in the 21st century, including: high technology, workforce development, digital inclusion, arts, innovation, collaboration and social capital. We have been tested and assessed as world leaders and we are delighted to work with the ICF on spreading innovation throughout the global community."

The Intelligent Community Forum also honored Sen. Stephen Conroy, Australia's Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, as ICF's Visionary of the Year. Conroy is the governing Labor Party's official responsible for the National Broadband Network (NBN), the largest infrastructure project in Australian history.

Conroy said Australia's 2011 National Digital Strategy aims to make the country the top broadband economy by the year 2020. "Universal, affordable, reliable broadband is the key utility of the 21st century," Senator Conroy said.

The NBN aims to connect 93% of Australian households through fiber to achieve 1Gigabit per second speeds, with the remaining 7% connected through wireless or advanced satellite communication.

The NBN is a wholesale-only, open access architecture that "corrects mistakes of governments on both sides, for the last 20 years, relying just on the market to serve Australia" he said.

According to Conroy, privatization and subsidies led to "failure of network," resulting in a vertically integrated incumbent with 90% of the income from telecommunications. The incumbent telco and its main cable competitor only competed to hollow out the opposition's market share, leaving Australia with "low speeds and high prices."

The 2012 Intelligent Communities Founders Award went to the city of Tuxtla Guitérrez in the Mexican state of Chiapas, for its Vigilant Taxi Driver ("Taxistas Vigilantes") program. There, 3,500 cab drivers employ city-provided, free mobile phones for a Citizen Monitoring System to help the authorities deal with accidents, street and lighting maintenance issues, and as a citywide mobile crime watch.

Riverside had a red letter day in New York City, since it also scored first in the conference's separate competition: "Coolest Broadband Community App." The community won with an application called the "Digital Learning Revolution." It is a 24/7 integrated platform for instructional content, school administration, parental information, and student homework, through one accessible portal.

Riverside Unified School District's technology leader Jay McPhail said their goal was to "move from factory-based education to network-based education." The school district, 14th largest in the state with 43,000 students, uses a "technology agnostic" approach. The district allows students to access the portal through their own resources, which account for 20,000 devices. District-provided devices for students without their own technology number another 12,500 machines.

ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla said of Riverside, "You are an example of yet another community many left for dead, but which has fought all the way back, using its collective will power and intelligence to prove, once again, that there is a great revival taking place among the world's cities, towns and regions."

Technical advances also were highlighted in the ICF event. Gordon Campbell of SVIRAL in Sunnyvale spoke of a revolution in computing use that would share underutilized "dark cores" located in devices now proliferating in homes, cars, and the Internet of Things.

For example, a MacBook Pro has 503 processor cores, with only 1% in use at a time. A typical house may have 2,000 cores, while a car employs a network of 300 processor cores. Campbell's company is at work on technology to scale access to the unused computational power represented by "dark cores" worldwide.

Other applications included a "programmable LED" lighting technology by Anycomm being tested in Stratford, Ontario, an ICF Top 7 city. The technology will allow that city's smart grid to dim or brighten lights across the community at peak times in return for lower utility bills and minimal user impact.

Besides Riverside, the complete list of 2012 intelligent city finalists includes:

• Austin, Texas -- United States • Oulu -- Finland • Quebec City, Quebec -- Canada • Saint John, New Brunswick -- Canada • Stratford, Ontario -- Canada • Taichung City, Taiwan

The 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year competition opens with nominations in July 2012 with the deadline in the fall 2012. Seven new finalists will be announced at the Pacific Telecommunications Council's January 2013 conference in Honolulu. The winner will be named in New York City in spring 2013.

Gillette is professor of information and communication sciences at Ball State University and a senior research fellow at the Digital Policy Institute. He has written extensively on ICT leadership and management, and worked in academic, industry and public policy organizations. He can be reached at jaygillette@bsu.edu.

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