The Vision of Next Century Cities

Next Century Cities is an organization comprised of 166 mayors of cities that have the mission statement to make sure that all of their citizens have access to fast, affordable and reliable Internet access. The members range from small towns to NFL cities. They recently published their 2017 Policy Agenda that highlights the issues that they think are the biggest impediments to meeting their broadband goals. These goals are worth some thought since they differ from the wish list of most other stakeholders in the industry.

Restore Local Authority. Cities want to have a hand in finding their own broadband solutions and they don’t want to be restricted by state or federal law from doing so. I would note that the vast majority of cities do not want to be a retail ISP, but they still want to have the ability to make the investments needed to meet their broadband goals. They want to be able to form meaningful public-private partnerships. And more than anything else they want the legal authority to find broadband solutions.

Competition in Multi-Dwelling Units (MDUs). Cities with any significant percentage of citizens living in MDUs are concerned that those citizens are often not getting the same quality broadband products or having the same array of choice as single family homes. For example, even where fiber has been built, overbuilders often skip MDUs that present construction or operational issues. Cities are also still concerned about the proliferation of exclusive contracts between MDU owners and ISPs.

Anti-Monopoly and Competition. Mayors are concerned by what they see as shrinking competition. In many cities the cable companies have won the broadband battle against the telco. Where there are no significant third-party fiber overbuilders the mayors see broadband becoming a monopoly product. The cities generally are against the mergers of gigantic ISPs.

High-Quality Low-Income Internet Access. Cities are still looking for ways to solve the digital divide. They understand that there is a significant percentage of the population that doesn’t have broadband because they can’t afford it. They are currently dismayed by what they perceive as the FCC walking away from the Lifeline program that can subsidize broadband service in low income households.

Small Cell/5G/DAS. Cities are grappling with how to best foster and physically accommodate the coming proliferation of wireless transmitters that will be spread through the community to distribute 5G and millimeter wave spectrum. They are anticipating a host of new wireless broadband products, but they have concerns about how to deal with numerous wireless providers wanting to utilize the same key locations.

One Touch Make Ready. Cities are in favor of regulatory changes that make it easier for fiber overbuilders to get onto poles or into existing conduits. The ‘one touch make ready’ concept would greatly speed up the process and reduce the costs of the pole attachment process. It would give a new fiber builder the ability to more easily move wires of existing carriers to speed up the construction process. In cities with numerous existing carriers on pole lines the cost and time involved in gaining approval and of implementing the changes needed to accommodate a new carrier can be numbingly slow.

Infrastructure Investment. Cities want to be included in broadband infrastructure spending that might come from any federal infrastructure plan. They fear that any broadband money will be aimed only at rural areas and the FCC still estimates that there are more than 10 million people in large urban areas that can’t buy bandwidth that meets the FCC’s 25/3 Mbps threshold. And while smaller rural towns and cities might have broadband that meets that test, they often have older networks that are far below the standards of metropolitan areas.

Summary. Of all of the various stakeholder groups involved in broadband infrastructure deployment, cities the most focus on getting quality broadband to everybody. That focus puts them into opposition with incumbent ISPs on some issues. Experience shows us that cities are often more aligned with new overbuilders, at least to the extent that those ISPs don’t want to only cherry-pick the most lucrative customers in the city. Because of various state restrictions, cities vary widely in how much influence they have over broadband. But cities everywhere are the ones that determine some of the key processes in broadband deployment such as permitting and local construction practices. And that means that their goals must be recognized by anybody wanting to deploy new broadband in cities.

2 thoughts on “The Vision of Next Century Cities

  1. Is fiber still relevant?
    1. After a decade of “buzz” about fiber as muni broadband panacea, it seems the only case study still talked up at conferences is Chattanooga.
    2. Google has pulled the plug on their fiber venture.
    3. An autonomous vehicle will require 40 Terabytes/day of data
    4. Given the hurdles you list, looks like fiber is not a viable solution to support 21st century infrastructure
    5. 5G is MUCH more than faster youtube on Dad’s “cellphone”
    6. One leg of the 3-legged stool of 5G is “massive fixed and wireless broadband” meaning up to 10 Gbps to a device and 100 Gbps of backhaul
    7. FCC has allocated over 11 GHz in licensed and unlicensed spectrum for 5G.
    8. Plenty of 5G trials happening now, GA in 2020 even if standards are not finally ratified
    9. Smart grid and smart cities will require their own MASSIVE private networks, not something borrowed from “the telephone company”
    10. If you’re a baby boomer telecom guy/gal contemplating retirement, fuggeddaboutit, you will be in HIGH demand for decades to come. 🙂

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    • Come on Frank. Don’t swallow the wireless hype. For wireless to deliver that kind of bandwidth there will need to be wireless transmitters everywhere since those high frequ7encies are good for very short distances. And this wireless antenna networks are going to have to be fiber fed. This means a whole lot more fiber than today almost everywhere.

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