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August 20, 2005

OneCleveland: A Model for Broadband Community Networks – No Apologies Required.

Broadband community networks are all the rage across the country and around the world. For more than three years, Case Western Reserve University and our community partners have been working together in collaboration to build on the strengths of our community to evolve a model of leveraging advanced, ultra broadband technologies to provoke and inspire new applications and services to address community priorities. Intel’s recognition of OneCleveland leadership in its world wide digital communities initiative is the most recent, and among the most high profile, recognition of our efforts so far.

Our partnership model extends now both well beyond the city borders of Cleveland and into the Northeast Ohio region and embraces provocative new collaborations across and between clusters including research, education, healthcare research, healthcare services, museums, libraries, public broadcasting, government services, and other public agencies.

Later this fall, the Haas Charitable Trust will be issuing a major whitepaper on the future of broadband community networks in the United States. Its major conclusion is that “each community that thinks it might benefit by having a broadband community network needs a “hub”, or convening organization, around which it can create and operate such a network. If this is to work, it will almost certainly need to be based on an alliance of community interests composed of higher education institutions, healthcare, local government, public schools, social services, public broadcasting, [and] cultural organizations. OneCleveland provides a very good model.”

The report goes on to develop an extensive case study of what makes the OneCleveland effort “the” model in the nation for community broadband networking. “… [N]o other community may merit the “model” label that clearly belongs to Cleveland…”

Here are some excerpts of the forthcoming study. Read it Cleveland/Northeast Ohio and remember, there are no apologies required. Thanks to Richard Somerset-Ward for permission to share this brief excerpt.

[From Broadband Community Networks: Building the Digital Commons, A Report for The Haas Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, PA]

Cleveland may seem an unlikely place to propose as a model, but a number of circumstances have come together there to make it a virtual laboratory for anyone interested in the potential of community broadband.

To begin with, it has an honorable history in community building and firm foundations on which to base it – the Rockefeller legacy of superb cultural and scientific institutions on University Circle; a major university, Case Western Reserve, at the center of a lively group of higher education schools; a leadership position in medical research, including cardio-vascular and other diseases at the Cleveland Clinic; the best public broadcasting organization in the nation, bar none; a relatively wealthy and far-seeing community foundation; an outstanding local newspaper; the largest theater development in America outside Broadway; and a generous network of faiths, religions and voluntary bodies.

In the last two decades of the twentieth century it might be said that Cleveland rose from its bed of rust and gave itself new life, epitomized by a lakeside development that includes the port, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and a new stadium for the Browns. The State of Ohio endowed it with rivers of fiber optic cable and gave it access to superior agencies like the Ohio SchoolNet, the Ohio Academic Research Network and, more recently, Governor Taft’s Third Frontier Initiative, which is designed to provide advanced networking services to enhance research, education and economic development throughout the state. Beginning in 1986, Cleveland built one of the first and largest FreeNets in the nation, and it has now solidified its technological ambitions in an organization called OneCleveland.

OneCleveland is a nonprofit provider of community-based ultra high-speed broadband to educational, governmental, research, cultural and healthcare organizations. It is about to extend its services into Northeast Ohio as a whole, including the cities of Akron and Youngstown.

The clients are nonprofits, research, cultural and educational institutions of all kinds, as well as government agencies. The founding partners were Case Western Reserve University (for whom Lev Gonick, the university’s chief information officer, took the lead), Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland State University, the City of Cleveland, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, the Municipal School District, ideastream (which is the name of the local public broadcaster), Cuyahoga County Public Library, and NorTech. Many others have joined, including the Clinic, the Museum of Art, the Institute of Art, the Institute of Music, the Orchestra, Cleveland Public Art (a nonprofit devoted to creating public art), Western Reserve Historical Society and MetroHealth Medical Center.

Through these partner/members, OneCleveland serves individuals at one remove – that is, people subscribing to the member organizations, or working with them, or making use of them, receive the benefit of OneCleveland’s super connectivity. The ultra broadband network has mostly been created by lighting up dark fiber that covered a remarkable amount of the city of Cleveland and its suburbs. Most of the fiber was donated by its owners, and a lot of the backbone equipment used to operate the network was given by Cisco Systems. Global Crossing’s core router in downtown Cleveland provides the principal link to the Internet.

So here is a state-of-the-art facility, and it is available to a specific community that has both history and identity – though its identity, once quite tangible, might be said to be in the early stages of refurbishment. Unlike many American cities, Cleveland is also blessed with a first-rate public broadcasting organization that has its eye firmly on the future. To this end, WVIZ-TV and WCPN Radio joined forces in 2001 to create a brand new “multimedia public service organization” called ideastream. The clearly stated objective of its leaders, Jerry Wareham and Kit Jensen, was to place ideastream, its digital facilities, its content expertise and its local know-how, at the service of the community as a whole, working in partnership with other community organizations. At the same time, it would extend its media expertise way beyond radio and television into broadband and online technologies of all kinds.

In another very visible and statement-making partnership, ideastream has teamed up with the Playhouse Square Foundation, which operates six restored and historic theaters in downtown Cleveland, to create a magnificent new digital headquarters, The Idea Center, with street-front transparency – “a distributor of ideas partnering with a content provider”, as the fundraising brochure put it. Playhouse Square will use the building to hold workshops for a steady stream of visiting students and teachers and to create educational programming that already serves 50,000 children a year. Ideastream will use it as the physical center of an increasingly virtual operation. The building, for which close to $30 million was raised, will contain civic space – and endless opportunities. Above all, it is designed to be a place where innovative partnerships between all parts of the community – business, government, education, nonprofits – will be fostered and developed.

So Cleveland is fertile territory for broadband networking. But connectivity, on its own, means relatively little. The next question is: What do they use it for? In this respect, Cleveland is still at the beginning of the adventure, but casual visitors to the Museum of Art or the Institute of Music – or the schools and colleges – may begin to discern some answers. At the museum they may happen across a poetry slamming competition made possible by the ultra broadband connection between the Cuyahoga public libraries and the museum; they may be able to join a live interactive link-up with Bob Ballard as one of his deep water vehicles floats through the ruins of the Titanic; or they may be able to watch the museum’s expert conservators hold a high-powered consultation with their colleagues at the Louvre in Paris to determine the best way of cleaning priceless pottery of antiquity. At the Institute of Music they may be able to catch an interactive video connection with a local classroom where music is being used as an inter-disciplinary teaching aid for a lesson in math or physics or chemistry (the Institute does more than 500 of them a year). And not far away they may find some of the Institute’s own students taking part in an interactive masterclass by Glen Dicterow, concert master of the New York Philharmonic.

None of these examples amounts to a particularly new or innovative use of telecommunications, but when taken together, and multiplied many times over, they begin to demonstrate the power of broadband connections to give access to places and people that were previously off limits, and to add significant value to our understanding and experience. What is now needed – and Cleveland is the perfect place to do it because its institutions have an unusual willingness to partner while still preserving their competitiveness – is some concentrated experimentation in other kinds of content development. In particular, government and community agencies need to set the technologists to work to develop ways in which social services can usefully and economically make use of broadband distribution. Can healthcare, notably the large part of it that involves education, be better disseminated over interactive broadband? Can welfare-to-work (again, the educational elements) be better achieved via broadband? Can employment opportunities, job retraining, services for senior citizens, and hundreds of other services for all parts of the population be efficiently (and humanely) delivered over broadband to people in their homes or at some convenient gathering point?

[end of excerpt]

As always, I will welcome feedback and sharing of this blog entry.

Lev Gonick, Cleveland, OH August 19, 2005

Posted by lsg8 at August 20, 2005 10:06 AM and tagged Bytes 

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