The need for speed
The leadin to a story datelined Chattanooga, Tennessee asks “What superfast internet connections can do for a city.” This from The Economist August 11th 2012.
My regular readers should recognize that I find many reports in the British weekly newspaper appropriate to life on our small key. This is one of these.
Driving either way on Gulf of Mexico Drive you might see rather large signs pleading NO 150 Ft CELL TOWER. These are at several locations in about the 6100 block of GMD. Some of the sponsors of these signs were once supporters of mine in political days gone by. I have nothing to do with the current signage. In fact it might appear that these messages are out of date. I don’t think that any serious observer fears that a tall cell tower will be built on Longboat Key. For those who try to keep up with this slow-dying issue it has become apparent, at least to this observer, that the principal reason for the demise of any new tower here is the advancement in the technologies supporting cellular telephone service. Several of us have written on this in these pages, although I doubt if any of us would take credit for that demise. Technology moves along. It pays to keep up. This is not to say that cell service on this key cannot be improved; it can. Technology often morphs into politics.
Our British reporters continue, “Nothing drives an elected official to indignity faster that the promise of something for nothing. When Google announced that it would build a fibre-optic broadband network capable of delivering one gigabit-per-second internet – roughly 150 times the average American internet speed – to residential users in an American city, mayors lined up to debase themselves. Duluth’s jumped into a frozen lake, Sarasota’s into a shark tank. The mayor of Topeka changed his city’s name (for a day) to Google. Ultimately Google decided on Kansas City, and next month it will start providing its blazing-speed internet for $70 a month.”
Google, it turns out, will not offer this service to all in Kansas City. It has divided K.C. into 240 districts or “fibrehoods”. Only 46 of the modern day ‘hoods’ will get the new service.
“Only one American city offers one-gigabit internet connections to every resident, and it is not tech-savy San Francisco or university laden Boston, but Chattanooga, Tennessee’s fourth-largest city, nestled in the Appalachian foothills.” Continuing, “EPB of Chattanooga, the municipally-owned electricity company, branched out into telecoms service a little over a decade ago and soon afterwards decided to modernize the city’s power grid,” reports The Economist. “Starting in 2008, with the help of $111.5m in federal stimulus funds and another $169m raised through bonds, EPB laid over 6,000 miles of fibre-optic cable. The network became fully operational last spring; it covers EPB’s full service area, roughly 170,000 homes and businesses in urban, suburban and rural areas, and it delivers video and telephone service as well.” Terrific you say, but what’s in it for us on a barrier island with poor cell service? (Verizon has already wired up most of us with fibre.)
They’ll try to tell us, “But even though in practice someone in a trailer park on the side of a mountain could enjoy Palo Alto like internet speeds, relatively few Chattanoogans subscribe to the full gigabit service. EPB estimates that nine residents and two businesses pay the hefty $350 per month charge. Most use a 30-megabit per second (mps) connection, which is still faster than the American average of 6.7 mps.” Even so the municipal utility estimates that its video and internet division will become profitable this year. The fibre-optic network had nothing to do with residential users, but instead that network forms the spine of an extensive smart grid. “This suggests that the true benefit of municipal high-speed networks are not the consumer friendly baubles such as high-speed video downloads, HDTV and the like, but the vast range of possibilities they open. Over the fibre network is a wireless mesh that allows government, so often wary of innovation, to try new approaches.” Police, traffic , waste collections, utilities billing and operation are some of the areas open to improvement. The network can improve a city’s operations while broadening its tax base. As The Economist concluded, “Results like that are well worth a dunk in a shark tank.”
So what does all this do for the tourist who can’t call his office from his tin roofed rental?
A broadband backbone can not only improve municipal operations, it can also improve residential communications. I think that most of us have been convinced that broad band, wi-fi if you like, is the way to go for modern mobile service. My colleague at this newspaper proposed the backbone or spine years ago. I think we may have set the tower construction aside (I’m not completely sure of that one.). Might we here on this elite barrier island get serious about providing the alternative. The technology is there. Chattanooga did.
Two weeks ago I wrote of ‘Make, Buy, or Regulate’. This might be a chance to utilize that third alternative.