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November 26, 2004

Cleveland: Ahead of the Curve

This past week, two IT stories caught my attention. One was Jesse Drucker's Wall Street Journal's story (Nov 23, 2005) about Bill 30 in Pennsylvania that would prohibit municipalities such as Philadelphia from delivering wireless broadband service. The other story, came from Dan Fost of the San Francisco Chronicle reporting on a US Department of Commerce Study (National Telecommunications and Information Administration - NTIA), that outlines that while internet access continues to grow in the U.S. the broadband gap between the U.S. and other countries continues to grow. The two stories are inextricably connected to one another. Remarkably, no one that I know of has connected the digital dots.

The NTIA report, A Nation Online: Entering the Broadband Age, draws two major conclusions.

First, while the gap continues to grow both between the U.S. and its international competitors, more important, the gap continues to grow between class, race, and ethnicity groups within the U.S. The chasm is significant and growing larger. Broadband access within the Latino (13%) and African American (14%) communities is less than half that of Asian American (35%) and White american (26%) communities. Nearly half (45%) of all households earning more than $75K per year are connected to broadband while less than 10 percent of household under $35K are connected to broadband.

The second major finding of the NTIA study is that the volume and complexity of the Internet's content continues to grow. The study cites ever growing applications such as educating children, information about health care, bidding on contracts, connecting with people, governments and organizations around the world all driving a single secular cycle. " In light of this trend, it will become increasingly important for Americans to have affordabe access to broadband services."

OneCleveland, our community's ultra broadband platform for 21st century innovation and application development is the first ultra broadband community network of its kind in the nation. OneCleveland's goal is to leverage ultra broadband services to address community priorities. Public policy goals such as economic development, public safety, and bridging the digital divide are enabled through the cost effective service offering of OneCleveland's gigabit bandwidth. More importantly, OneCleveland as a platform, is an enabler that positions our community to chart its own future through thoughtful investments in next generation infrastructure. Whether research infrastructure at Case, collaboration infrastructure at Metro Health Hospitals, education infrastructure between the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cuyahoga Public Library system, safety services for the RTA and the cities' public safety community, or new forms of cooperation between public television and radio and our community's k-12 education system, OneCleveland enables our community to accelerate and position our region as a leader in the new age of broadband services. This is the promise of the digital age.

OneCleveland is also about creating partnerships. I do not believe there is another community ultra broadband network initiative that has engaged and successfully brought commitments and investments from major corporations like Cisco, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Lucent, and Intel. Moreover, and this is part of our "secret sauce", OneCleveland has been explicit and deliberate in its commitment to work with many of the incumbent internet service providers. DSL and cable modem service offerings for employees of OneCleveland institutional members is just one significant opportunity that will be rolling out over the next several weeks. Supporting the growth of OneCleveland and our soon to be announced regional community network is yet another opportunity for close cooperation and collaboration.

This brings me to the Philadelphia story. When the AP wire service first ran the story on that City's ambitious effort, David Caruso from AP contacted me. I outlined that OneCleveland, in contrast to a city-centered strategy like Philadelphia, was actually a community network. OneCleveland has subscribers, including a number of cities. This is only one of the major differences. In OneCleveland, many subscribers have, or are thinking about, enabling free wireless services to enable important public policy priorities within the unregulated spectrum known to support WiFi. This is very different than going into business to develop a revenue model for public wireless services. AP and later national syndicated columnist Neal Peirce picked up on these important differentiators. In the wireless space, OneCleveland's subscribers currently have more than 2000 wireless access points (hot spots) providing two kinds of internet services. Let's take Case Western Reserve University as an example (the one I know best). Among our (Case's) more than 1350 802.11g access points and numerous phase array 802.11b panels, we offer the vast majority of our bandwidth to members of the Case community, our students, faculty, and staff. However, in addition to privileged access to our campus community along our super highway, we have also opened up the equivalent of a public bicycle lane providing free wireless services to all visitors to the University Circle geography. Thousands of guests use the free public wireless service every day.

Free public wireless services enables our community to address important priorities today. The decision to support free public access is not an incidental or an after thought. More important, other not for profits in our community like the Cleveland housing authorities, the Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the Cleveland Library system and dozens of others that are exploring joining OneCleveland do so not only to reduce the cost of internet services and dramatically increase bandwidth to support new applications. For many, the major attraction is the dynamic conversation about free public wireless access and what new, never before seen services and applications can be enabled when the community owns a greater part of its own future. Can neighborhoods gather and report on the health and well being of their public services like street lighting, signage, sidewalks, and garbage collection. Can neighborhood public school projects collaborate with local senior citizen housing residents in innovative practices like "digital storytelling" to help preserve and extend the pride and the heritage and stories of the community. Can local ensembles of drummer muscians start a new international drumming festival with artists in other countries by leveraging ultra broadband wireless? Can we extend the value of our amazing city and county park systems by using wireless services to enhance field trip and other education opportunities? All these examples and dozens of other innovative practices are possible when communities leverage public institutional investments in ultrbroadband connectivity and leverage free public wireless services. When communities understand that connectivity can be, in part, a public entitlement, the debate shifts from private rights to public service and return on community value.

Cleveland is ahead of the curve. Soon, many other communities in NEOhio will be joining and ultimately shaping the value of ultrabroadband and wireless services to meet and address their community priorities. OneCleveland believes in partnership. This past week, Intel Corporation, the City of Cleveland, Case, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Great Lakes Science Center entered into a letter of intent to provide infrastructure to enable a new visitor's education experience for our lakefront education and visitor attractions made possible by OneCleveland. In the next 18 months, wireless services in the unregulated spectrum will continue to provide greater and greater bandwidth. Within 18 months we will see products that will increase wireless bandwidth 10 times the current upper limits of today's WiFi standards. At 500 Mb/sec, tomorrow's wireless services will be 500 to 1000 times faster than today's DSL and cable modem services wired and tethered to our walls. Mobile services are the future and today we are extemely lucky that we have created a sandbox for innovation and experimentation that is the envy of much of the rest of the world. We have and will continue to work with many of the incumbent providers of commercial services. Together we can create new value propostions to enhance both private and public goals. To remain ahead of the curve, Cleveland and all of Northeast Ohio need to work together, public and private sector interests, governments, business, education, health care, broadcast, telecommunication, and our amazing content providers to help enrich the quality of life in our own community.

To the extent that we continue to provide a model to the nation, OneCleveland must continue to demonstrate that we are not an either/or set of binary choices between private and public value. Addressing real community priorities like public education in our inner cities, safety, public health, valuing art and beauty, and creating hope can only be acheived by a community that takes an active role in charting its technology future and invites both public and private interests to demonstrate the viability of our own open source economic development model.

Lev Gonick

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