• Will Aycock speaking at RIoT XXX about Greenlight Community Broadband

Who holds the key to the Gigabit City? That answer and more, plus 200+ pictures from RIoT XXX.

2019-07-01T20:22:16+00:00January 29th, 2019|

In a gigabit society, every home, business, vehicle, and mobile device will be tapping speeds of up to 1000 Mbps—40x faster than today’s basic broadband. RIoT has been asking, “What will it take to get there?”

At RIoT XXX Smart and Connected Gigabit Cities, a partnership event hosted by RIoT, NCNGN, and US Ignite, speakers took the stage to discuss the opportunities, examples, and challenges of the smart city movement, focusing on how broadband is the underlying utility required to make smart city initiatives happen.

Matt Zapp, Town Manager for Benson, compared Benson’s focus on broadband to a town’s responsibilities to provide other utilities, like gas and water. As one of the speakers on the Gigabit Across NC panel, Zapp told the story of families who want to move to Benson and telecommute—but internet speeds make that nearly impossible.

“If we want to be a player in the market,” said Zapp, “we have to find a way to that goal line.”

Zapp leveraged the 150+ attendees to make an ask on behalf of his town. Benson recently released an RFI for an Open Access Broadband Initiative and is actively looking for partners. “The Town of Benson is looking for partners to provide high-speed broadband service to residents, businesses, and community anchor institutions in Benson and Johnston County,” states the RFI.

The RFI is positive – it outlines the major assets that would be made available by the town, including use of the existing dark fiber, use of the multiple 100-200ft water towers, and including marketing support from the Town to the existing customer base of over 1,800 electrical and water users.

“We’re working to incentivize that third party to use that fiber on our backbone,” Zapp said. He encouraged attendees to share Benson’s proposal with potential partners.  But the Town released a similar request for partnerships before and received zero responses.

The City of Wilson, by comparison, deployed their own fiber network, Greenlight Community Broadband, which has catalyzed smart city applications that save the city millions of dollars annually and has attracted federal funding for new applications through partnerships with US Ignite. The savings has enabled Wilson to invest in a new downtown innovation hub and economic development efforts.

Laws passed by the NC legislature more recently have prevented towns like Benson from following Wilson’s example. House Bill 129, officially enacted in NC May 2011, prevents local governments from offering consumer broadband services. The bill places deployment restrictions and imposes tax burdens on cities seeking to create their own high-speed networks.

Networks that were built before HB 129 are exempt, but industry leaders have said that there’s “almost no chance” another community in North Carolina will be able to build a new broadband network with HB 129 in effect.

Will Aycock, General Manager for Wilson’s Greenlight network shared Greenlight’s history and described how it’s a backbone for Wilson’s current initiatives. Aycock emphasized the collaboration required to make the project a reality.

“Smart city efforts are communication efforts,” said Aycock. “It’s not just a tech project for the tech guys, it’s not just an IT project. It has to be, for us, a priority of the entire campus.”  

Again and again, while most conversations started with tech, the speakers came back to how people and partnerships, not the technology and fiber, drive smart cities forward. The real impact is created when all citizens have equal access to educational resources and business tools.

Also on the Gigabit Across NC Panel was Jane Nickles, CIO of the City of Greensboro. She emphasized a new goal in her department:

“Getting people out of the municipal building and to things like this,” she said, gesturing from her panel seat to the crowd.

RIoT XXX Gigabit Cities

Zapp and Nickles were joined by Terry Yates, Smart City Project Manager for the Town of Cary, and Alan Fitzpatrick, Co-Founder of the NC Hearts Gigabit program, and the panel was moderated by Jeff Sural, Director of the Broadband Office for North Carolina. Fitzpatrick commented about broadband infrastructure in other communities as well. “15 minutes outside of Chapel Hill, and you’re on DSL,” he said.

The event’s attendees were a mix of municipal representatives, North Carolina IT Department representatives, university researchers, nonprofit and co-op groups, industry partners, and entrepreneurs. After each of the four panel-style events, attendees were invited to ask questions.  

During a panel about Open Data as a Gig City Catalyst, Virginia Lingham of Virginia DOT spoke about the success her organization has seen from hackathon events, bringing teams together to create apps that leverage open data. But in running the hackathons, her team found, surprisingly, that it wasn’t prize money driving people to participate.

“[The participants] want to meet peers they can collaborate with in the future,” Lingham said. “It’s about getting the doers of the world together.”

The doers were in the room at the event, and during the Gig to the Rescue panel about public safety, the panelists had another opportunity to speak directly with attendees. Red Grasso, Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for the FirstNet project in North Carolina, and Chief Alvarez, Assistant Chief of the Emergency Management Office for the City of Fayetteville, talked about initiatives impacting first responders. Both Grasso and Alvarez also offered to have follow-up conversations with attendees, who asked questions about data security and lack of standardization.

In a live example of RIoT network connections, one of the RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP) participants asked Grasso for advice on testing his startup’s public safety product Safe Zone, a gunshot detection device developed by AVidea. The panelists shared resources related to testing and then offered to connect after the event and share more.

Both Grasso and Alvarez previously served as NC firefighters. When asked what attendees could do to support smart city projects in public safety, Chief Alvarez also gestured to the room.

“Being here,” he said.

This theme of partnership and of collaboration permeated every session of the half-day conference, something that Scott Turnbull, Director of Technology for US Ignite, reflected on during his closing keynote.

“The gigabit city is a side effect,” Turnbull said. “It’s the innovation that drives it that matters.”

Turnbull also called the Raleigh-Durham area “one of [US Ignite’s] outstanding communities,” and emphasized that he’s observed open collaboration as the key driver of innovation in North Carolina.

NC collaboration was on full display during the lightning demo hour, which featured five US Ignite-funded projects that included smart parking, VR applications in education and medicine, and drones that help with GIS mapping and emergency response and flood assessment during hurricanes. Jean Davis, CEO of MCNC, moderated the demos after speaking on the important role MCNC has held, helping bring fiber connectivity to all 100 NC counties and connecting schools, hospitals, libraries and community spaces across the state.  

Tom Snyder, Executive Director of RIoT emphasized that, “when broadband networks were first deployed, no one had any idea that new industries like ride sharing would result. 4G wireless spurred massive economic growth—in areas with good coverage. Nearly all basic services are now predominantly online. Banking. Education. It is imperative that all communities, urban and rural, are part of the gigabit future.”

So who holds the key to the gigabit city? Collaborators—leaders with vision who are willing to make partnerships, ask for help, offer help, and work with others.

Aycock summed that sentiment up when he closed his presentation with an invite to attendees, asking that they come see his city’s initiatives for themselves and offer to partner on new ones.

“We want to invite y’all,” he said. “Invite all of y’all to come to Wilson.”

 

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