Digital Cities and Fiber Optic Technology

A lot has been made recently of 1G fiber optic connections being wired up into people’s homesHere in Cleveland the Case Connection Zone project will be conducting research on what exactly would someone DO with all this bandwidth?   1G connections will be placed into 104 homes and apartments on Hessler St. – and the class I’m teaching at CWRU will help provide the software to those residents.

In San Francisco the city is installing fiber into some public housing blocks, as the fiber network is traveling right past these buildings as part of a City College infrastructure project.  Apartment buildings are being included directly into an urban ring which can provide enough bandwidth for 100 homes.

In Lafayette, LA the entire city is already wired with fiber optic, as is the entire nation of Singapore – which has just completed a 15-year journey to do so. Malmo, SwedenTrieste, ItalySeoul, Korea – around the world we’re seeing previously unbelievable levels of connectivity delivered directly into citizens’ homes.

Now the question begs an answer – “what will we do with all this bandwidth and why do I care?”

The answer to this simple question can be found by reviewing the various aspects, constituents and benefits which will be affected by this connectivity.  It’s not JUST the connectivity that matters, but what happens when you go to the trouble and expense of installing this kind of bandwidth.

Expectations have to be met – both from an altruistic point of view as well as financial.  Creatively one can dream of what could be done with this much bandwidth, and technically we can talk about new kinds of infrastructure and capabilities.  But ultimately what matters is the economics and in particular, the number of new jobs that will be generated.

So there is no one answer to the question “what do you do with all this bandwidth” and that’s a good thing.  One answer that I’ve come up with is what I call a “Digital City” – a place where “Digital Citizens” prosper with jobs, lifestyle and community all enhanced with open on-line technology.

The essence of a Digital City can be found in its balance between real-life and the on-line world, between meatspace and cyberspace. Understanding this balance and getting it right is where the REAL answer to our question lies.

For society to enable its Digital Citizens to live and prosper, there must be jobs for these digital citizens and a sustainable business climate to pay for those jobs.  The balance between the synthetic and real worlds is a fantasy scenario for many: “wouldn’t it be great if I could make money just sitting in front of my computer – doing the stuff I love to do anyway?”

But life isn’t about what we want to see happen.  What we know is that ALL jobs of the future will require some sort of knowledge of tech skills.  And we know that the computer is the next generation hammer or screwdriver, but many still avoid computers and on-line technology – like the plague.

I believe that government should make sure that its citizenry as a whole can tap into the potential of open on-line technology and new kinds of jobs.   “Citizen Dashboards” should be made available that will not only provide an integrated environment (of blogging, media sharing, activity streams and social networking compatibility) but also aggregate one’s friends and favorite services and content, in a highly customizable environment.

These Citizen Dashboards might prove to be a relatively simple solution to finding the next generation of jobs to ‘buy’ our way out of the current economic malaise.  You hear a lot about money being ‘poured into the economy’, but it’s hard to find that money being put to work – effectively and productively.

Telcos and Cable companies have, until now, had the exclusive rights to install connectivity into people’s homes, but we’re now seeing City and County governments taking this responsibility into their own hands.  Why?

To establish ‘open networks’ – where any citizen, small startup or non-profit can have access to the same kind of fiber connectivity that up until now only huge conglomerates could benefit from.  These open networks will connect social networks together; create distributed environments where no one vendor controls everything and offer services or on-line content for niche constituencies.

This series of articles will spell out the components, actions and new entities required to support a new ‘sustainable business model’ for generating jobs with social media as the tool.  That sustainable business model will utilize social media and tap into volunteerism to train workers.  But it will also rely upon the fiber optic being installed into our homes and communities and a new kind of ‘software infrastructure’ (based on the notion of the ‘open web’) to create an environment ripe for sustainability and prosperity.

This sustainable model needs fuel to feed the economic engine – and I think I’ve found the answer in something that lies in my past – the world of multimedia.  If you look back and see how much progress we’ve made over the past 26 years since my co-founders and I created the world’s first multimedia company – MacroMind – I think we can look forward to the next 26 years as an era where on-line technology meets multimedia to revolutionize on-line knowledge and information.

Our multimedia revolution was ground to a halt in 1995 when the web came along.  The ’thin straw’ of dial-up connectivity was prohibitively too slow to allow for the uploading and downloading of images, audio or video – so we went “back” to the era of text based information.  This destroyed the momentum we had built up towards multimedia information and knowledge, created during the so-called CD–ROM era, where 25,000 CD ROMs had been produced between 1990-1994.

What I envision to feed our sustainable engine of on-line jobs and prosperity is a whole lot of on-line multimedia being produced over the next 20-30 years.  If you think about the Wikipedia, you’ll see the ‘bricks and mortar’ Encyclopedia Britannica put on-line with web links and community added.  But the information itself is still text with photos.

Our multimedia revolution foretold an era where graphics, video, animations, simulations, visualizations, charts, dynamic data and interactive user interfaces would purvey information and knowledge in new ways.

Well needless to say 15 years later we’re picking up where we left off.  YouTube, Flickr and Facebook have shown what can be done with on-line multimedia.  NetFlix, iTunes and Hulu are revolutionizing on-line entertainment.  Even game machines and stationary kiosks are radically being changed by on-line multimedia.

So now it’s time to revolutionize jobs, software infrastructure and ultimately build Digital Cities that benefit from on-line multimedia.  A sustainable model will be needed to create our Digital Cities – and much of that will be driven by the $100s of billions of production work needed to build out our multimedia encyclopedias of the future.

When all the components, factors and strategies are laid out for these Digital Cities– I hope you’ll see that in fact we CAN create new kinds of jobs “out of thin air!”

To start off talking about Digital Cities – you have to define what it is I mean by a Digital City.  That definition starts with hardware infrastructure and the kind of fiber optic connectivity which we see appearing today.

In the 1990s a Digital City referred to having access to the Internet – through Wi-Fi, Internet Cafes and on-line access in general.  In those days the fiber didn’t make it all the way to your home, it didn’t even make it to your local Internet café.  But it did provide the bandwidth to local ISPs, who in turn sold it to cafes, schools, airports and other public places where one could ‘jack-into’ the web.

In the past decade – 2000-2009 – we’ve seen the rise of social media and on-line technology defining what a “Digital City” is.  When one meets someone they say “what’s your email?” or “I’ll hook up with you on Facebook.” We talk about watching shows on Hulu and NetFlix and we all carry around portable music libraries – which would have been unheard of even 10 years ago.  We all take on-line technology for granted in our Digital City and get annoyed when our iPhones can’t get service or our DSL lines go down in our homes.

I believe that the next decade Digital Cities will bring a new era of ‘software infrastructure’ into our lives which will radically affect how we discover information, find things on-line and connect to our communities.  Shared servers of open municipal data will be part of this “software infrastructure platform” which we can utilize to build new kinds of applications and services.  These shared servers will provide traffic data, demographics and business data, timelines of local historical information and media, directories of businesses, jobs, events and/or surveillance and webcams – each with its own location page dedicated to each cam.

This software infrastructure will extend the access we achieved in the 1990s and social media ubiquity we’ve just realized in the ‘00s to create a rich environment for innovation, jobs and prosperity.  This is what I call a Digital City and we’ll all be Digital Citizens of this future.

The sustainable business model I’m dreaming of will combine: )a) job training and job creation with social media with (b) this new kind of software infrastructure of shared servers and (c) the widespread production of on-line multimedia content as the basis of creating new kinds of jobs for the future.

This strategy for creating jobs is based in setting up local digital bureaus where citizen dashboards are offered so that (a process I call) a ‘virtuous circle’ of volunteerism and training can be offered to local citizens.  These digital bureaus will provide machines, training classes, stage live events and provide space for real-time video help operators to offer help to any video phone caller.

These digital bureaus will be supplied with bandwidth by “middle-mile hubs” that we’re seeing popping up in Digital Cities all over the world.  These middle-mile hubs are based at local schools, senior citizen homes, community centers, libraries, etc.

These digital bureaus are EXACTLY where cyberspace touches meatspace!

In the next installment of this article I’ll go over in detail this sustainable model which will fuel our Digital City engine and the ‘virtuous circle’ process we’re developing for training and volunteerism that is based in open Citizen Dashboards.


Google’s gigabit play

Case Connection Zone

Lev Gonick – on the Case Connection Zone

Shooting for the Moon

CWRU and Corning

CWRU and Genexis

IIME 371, 471 – Software for the Case Connection Zone

Virgin Media offers 100 mbps in the UK

Malmo, Sweden

Trieste, Italy

Seoul, Korea

Singapore – Next Gen Nationwide Broadband Network (NGNBN)

Key Milestones of the NGNBN

Lafayette, LA finally gets it’s fiber

SF fiber/Wi-Fi efforts – Tim Pozar, Brewster Kahle, et al.

History of Macromedia Director


FCC and the digital divide

* * * * * * * * * * * *

About the author

Marc Canter, CEO of Broadband Mechanics (BBM) is a 25+ year veteran of the software business. BBM is a boutique social networking design and platform shop -specializing in building systems that support the open stack, custom semi-private networks and strategic thinking. Marc is an advocate of open social networking, open standards and what he calls the ‘open mesh‘. Marc was the co-founder of MacroMind, which became Macromedia.