Guest commentary: Northeast Ohio muni wireless project brings together education, city officials

This week The Chronicle of Higher Education published a story entitled: “Struggling Communities Turn to Colleges: Small private institutions work to help ailing local economies.” The article discusses the value of collaboration between higher education and local government. Author, Karin Fischer, reports that “civic leaders say they are looking to colleges not simply to spruce up their city centers but also to help position them in an economy that values smarts more than strength.” She goes on to report: “In old mill towns and declining manufacturing centers, in the Rust Belt’s former company towns and in the rural South, small, private liberal arts institutions like King’s [College – Wilkes-Barre] are assuming a greater responsibility for community and economic development. They and their alumni are raising money to purchase abandoned buildings. They are relocating college facilities, like bookstores and residence halls, to buy up urban cores. They are working to better connect faculty experts with local entrepreneurs.”

This important trend speaks to what the Beta Strategy Group understands about Muni Wireless. In our last article, we suggested that of the broadband deployments we are engaged in, most involve solving complex community and economic challenges. Nothing is more complex than re-inventing the business communities of our nation through information technology and entrepreneurship.

Right now, we are involved in deploying what will be the first Muni Wireless Broadband deployment in Northeast Ohio, a network that will serve the city and the local college, as well as its surrounding cities and county offices. Thus, despite the ongoing dialogue concerning the validity of broadband deployment, smart cities and colleges in our path understand that the objective of drawing students and businesses to state-of-the-art technology centers will be the defining component of the future of their Main Street landscape.

For example, in Painesville, Ohio, City Manager Rita McMahon and local officials at Lake Erie College are building the exact case study called for by Ms. Fischer in her timely article. Painesville’s community has embraced a broadband strategy to advance not only community safety and improved city operations, but the network connects with Lake Erie College. Lake Erie College, a recipient of the Kaufman Entrepreneurship Award, intends on building student businesses and sees the value of keeping these businesses in the local community.

Painesville and Northeast Ohio have been in the forefront of broadband deployment and have become examples of successful technology roadmaps. But what is not always apparent is that the region receives the value of collaboration. The success of Muni Wireless is not just about deploying the technology or creating a new utility. The true value and allure rests in the programs that shape and envision an economic future by leveraging and raising the intellectual value of the surrounding community. In other words, the biggest challenge for Muni Wireless is not technological; it is about building community economic models that provide for broad inclusion. This means that city leaders need to identify “all” of the stakeholders in a deployment whilst structuring a business model that accounts for the value of the participants’ assets, whether they are technological or intellectual.

These are exciting times, and I encourage you to get started.

My colleagues and I welcome your questions and commentary and we will research and provide you with the best possible, unbiased input.

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Founder, Beta Group

Cathy Horton is the founder of Beta Strategy Group. Before founding Beta Strategy, Cathy was a lawyer with the firm Thompson Hine. She has spent more than 20 years cultivating a global mergers and acquisitions and venture finance practice. Cathy spent 15 years in London, where she worked with global enterprises, governments and start-ups to foster and capture the value of strategic innovation. She developed a flair for bringing strategic partners together to form valuable market exchanges, shared product offerings and bundled services provision amongst partners. Also, while in London, Cathy consulted as a trusted advisor with the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister on e-government, and with the Northern Ireland government, to help determine ways in which technology development could drive economic outcomes for Britain.
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Note to readers: Cathy Horton writes a weekly column for Muniwireless.


  1. When is the wifi going to get fired up?