Superfast fiber broadband has the potential to transform cities. By providing the ability to connect to the internet at high speed, citizens, businesses and the wider community all benefit through greater choice and faster access to services.
Education and lifelong learning can be extended, while healthcare can be digitized, improving quality of life for patients. Government services can be moved online; increasing efficiency while making it easier for citizens to interact with municipal government.
In an increasingly competitive market, the availability of superfast broadband can play a big part in where residents choose to live and businesses decide to set up.
Municipalities recognize this, and are planning and investing to reap the benefits of building a fiber network in their communities. A great example of this is the City of Loma Linda in California, which has built its own high capacity fiber network to underpin its growth. This has helped improve its large healthcare industry (it has five major hospitals with up to 100,000 patients visiting the city every day for treatment), attract new businesses to the municipality and provide a platform for more efficient local government.
City officials, such as planners, understand the topline benefits of fiber broadband. However, a nationwide US survey has uncovered worrying gaps in their knowledge when it comes to more basic broadband concepts. The research, conducted jointly by the American Planning Association and Applied Communications, found that:
- 84% didn’t know about the availability of middle-mile services in their community
- 66% were not aware of the FCC National Broadband Plan
- 50% were unable to answer whether there was a fixed wireless service in their community
- 85% hadn’t viewed or used the NTIA Broadband Mapping project
Clearly, there is a knowledge gap between the traditional skills and experience of planners in many municipalities, and the requirements of creating and implementing fiber broadband networks. So let's begin to address that gap and help planners in the education process; here are the six key areas I think should be focussed on:
1. Map the landscape
Begin by researching and understanding what is currently available in your community. What speeds are offered by existing networks, who runs them and what technologies are used. Discuss future plans with current operators – are they looking to move to fiber networks, and if so what is the timescale? If they are looking to upgrade, you may not need to build your own network, but can collaborate to ensure that the new infrastructure best meets the needs of the municipality.
2. Understand the technology
There are multiple technologies, topologies and implementation architectures involved in fiber broadband, such as Fiber to the Premises/Home (FTTP/FTTH) and Fiber to the Cabinet (FTTC). Newer techniques such as micro trenching and pushable fiber should also be considered. Educate yourself on the differences between each and look at which is the best fit for your needs and budget. m2fx’s Complete Guide to Fiber to the Premises Deployment eBook gives a good overview of the available options.
3. Build a business case
Implementing a fiber network is a major project; it can be expensive and involves disruption to the urban environment. Therefore you need a strong business case that builds on the economic benefits that it brings in order to justify and secure investment. Ensure this is as comprehensive as possible – include benefits in areas such as education, healthcare, increasing efficiency, greater security and the potential to attract new residents and businesses. Check to see if there are government funds you can potentially tap into to reduce the cost to the municipality itself.
4. Talk to your peers
Every municipality is different - there is no single model for planning and implementing a superfast broadband network. Research what has been done already, learn from existing case studies and look at partnering with technology companies with prior experience in the area. Broadband Communities magazine is a good source of examples – this recent article provides a round-up of some leading case studies.
5. Involve the community
Citizens and pressure groups are increasingly aware of the benefits of fiber and want it in their community. Link with them and keep them informed about your plans – not only will this help your business case, but by educating the wider population you will also ensure you have customers when your network is rolled out.
6. Look beyond initial deployment
As I’ve said, a fiber network is a major infrastructure project. But the work doesn’t stop when the initial deployment is completed. Create a blueprint to ensure the network spreads as your city expands, and that is part of all future planning, so that everyone benefits from high speed broadband. A network is a platform for innovation, so encourage your colleagues in municipal government, as well as citizens and businesses, to use its power to transform how they operate. For example, you can attract visitors to downtown areas with free wifi, make municipal employees more mobile by enabling them to work remotely through smart devices, increase security through a network of HD CCTV cameras or encourage working from home to reduce peak time traffic.
Superfast broadband networks deliver a proven economic and societal benefit to towns and cities. With competition for business taxes and residents fierce, planners need to understand the network landscape in their area, and then build a strategy to ensure they can deliver the benefits to their residents and businesses.