We Can Build Our Future Ourselves

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Google’s recent announcement that it will explore expanding its Google Fiber network to 34 cities in nine new metro areas will attract interest from City Halls across the nation. Here in Northeast Ohio, the OneCommunity Fiber Optic Network is already delivering a future-proof digital infrastructure to our communities. Here’s why we need to challenge the entrenched incumbent provider model with the OneCommunity proven model.

By Lev Gonick, Chief Executive, OneCommunity

In the race for who will own the future of our internet-connected lives Google has just upped the ante. Google’s February 19th announcement that it will begin work with 34 cities in nine metropolitan areas across the country on Google Fiber networks is the latest and boldest 21st century infrastructure effort in the four-year old venture that started with the first Google Fiber network in Kansas City. Over the next couple of weeks City Halls across the land will ask their planners and technology leaders how they can attract Google to make a fiber-optic investment and lend and extend the Google brand to their fair city.
We can simply sit around and wait for Google to come to the North Coast, or we can commit to becoming the architects of our own future. 

The OneCommunity Vision

 For the past ten years, the vision and experience of OneCommunity has shown that the future starts right here in Northeast Ohio.  With the support of our hundreds of forward-thinking public benefit organizations from health care to education, from libraries to government agencies, we have already built and now manage the largest community fiber-optic network in the country.
 Built right here in Cleveland, our $200-million optical network has become a reference model for national programs and communities across the country who also aspire to take their future into their own hands when it comes to a broadband blueprint for the future.

OneCommunity is much more than just a great network provider. We have a mission to support, engage and celebrate the successes of our partners. We have engaged with community partners to work on digital literacy and inclusion. We are committed to developing a public benefit apps factory. We are partnering with educational institutions at all levels to advance student success and teacher professional development through a connected education network.

We are launching the region’s first broadband innovation fund for entrepreneurs. And, together with many of our region’s cities and developers, we are focused on leveraging our fiber-optic network to attract and retain new companies who want to take advantage of one of the fastest networks in the world.

Clash of the Titans: Coaxial Cable Retread versus a Fiber-optic Future

The clash of the titans is about to unfold and it will be a contest of Olympian proportions. Comcast is seeking to acquire Time Warner Cable. If successful, the cable giant will own one-third of the households in America. It is highly improbable that any player will be successful in taking on and beating Comcast in the cable industry and its vision of a future based on retreading and extending the life of coaxial cable.

 Last week the cable industry trumpeted its latest Internet offering an unprecedented 100-megabit-per-second of blazing download connectivity.  Meanwhile, for much of the last decade many Asian and European businesses and consumers have had options to subscribe to connectivity that is more than 10-times faster than the most recent cable offering for the same or less cost.

 Setting aside all the noise as to American exceptionalism, the most fundamental reason for the difference in the marketplace is the deployment in Asia and Europe of fiber optics as an alternative to coaxial cable. None of the incumbent providers of network connectivity in the United States, including Comcast, have made sustained investments in future-proofing our network infrastructure through fiber optics.

 Enter Google

The new disruptive Google Fiber infrastructure deployment strategy positions the search and operating system giant as the new upstart competitor with the latest capabilities combined with a brand promise informed by moxie and swagger.

 The same day that the cable company introduced its 100-megabit-per-second offering, Google announced that it had plans on the drawing board to offer as much as 10-gigabit-per second offering, or 100 times faster speeds. The difference is based on the physics of the transportation system and the vision of the value of speed and scale.

 Set aside the tired and predictable cynics, industry apologists, and inside beltway naysayers. The move was a stroke of genius. The Google Fiber announcement serves to re-frame and provide the most compelling platform yet for 21st century science, technology and innovation. Google’s announcement encapsulates one of the country’s most unique historic qualities, to frame ‘the moon shot.’

 While Washington itself is paralyzed with snow and partisan gridlock, from the left coast comes a vision of a new era of innovation and a platform for leveraging advanced 21st century technologies to catalyze the American entrepreneurial spirit and attend to the most pressing challenges facing America, including neighborhood safety, health and wellness, energy sustainability, and relevant education to prepare a 21st century workforce.

 A Decade of Proven Experience in Northeast Ohio

Ten years into the OneCommunity journey, here are our suggestions that might help to inform our leaders’ thinking. We can either wait for Google to arrive or turn google into a verb, as in “let’s ‘google-up’ northeast Ohio” with fiber optics ourselves. Here are some key points to consider based on the OneCommunity experience:

First: Don’t leave the work of building our fiber-optic future to engineers and technologists alone. 

Over the past 25 years, those building amazing network infrastructures have toiled to deliver the magic of the Internet. There is an insatiable capacity of those building our networks to consume over 100 percent of all the available resources, whatever they are. The design constraint needs to framed 180 degrees the other way.

 The transformation of the region will be led by those who imagine the future use of this platform, not just by those who built it.  This is why OneCommunity is:

  • Supporting the convening of pilot programs in connected health delivery and in new wellness programs that can leverage interactive video collaboration, and
  • Building a coalition of the willing to work on student success in our high schools by leveraging connected learning networks.

 As the OneCommunity network becomes more widely available, we hope our region’s industry innovators will take the lead in deploying sensor networks (sometimes known as the” Internet of Things”) that will deliver better traffic management, more timely monitoring of air and water quality, public and neighborhood safety, compelling way-finding and visitor experiences to-and-from our attractions, and new, never-before-seen consumer-facing technological solutions.

 Second: A fiber-optic strategy for cities and for the entire region is a design project that needs to be framed as our 30-year infrastructure plan for the future. Incremental design and incremental resource investments will be the death of the “think big” approach.

 Imagine, for example, if NASA had planned to first build a refilling stop on the way to the moon. A regional plan for the future of our broadband network infrastructure without the benefit of information and communications technologies is simply unacceptable.

 That is why OneCommunity will partner with others to offer our civic and elected leaders a comprehensive vision of how fiber-optic broadband networks can grow our region’s ecosystem of innovators. We firmly believe that good old-fashioned Cleveland know-how will let us chart our own region’s future.

 Accepted Technical Standards are Key

 The lesson for today is that we need to agree on the common gauge, not the way to build it out.

 Technical standards already exist for implementing 1 gigabit (indeed, 10, 40, and 100 gigabit/sec) networking.

 Think about the build-out of the national network of railways in the 19th Century. With a commitment to a common rail gauge, it was possible to build a series of regional networks that were tied together by a relatively modest investment in a national railway ‘backbone.’

 Similarly, a national policy should enable national backbones that allow neighborhood, local, regional, and mega-regional optical networks to connect to one another as well as to end-points across the Internet.

 We at OneCommunity strongly urge planners to leverage common standards, keep the barriers to use and adoption as low as possible, maintain a commitment to openness and keep governance as lightweight as possible.

 The new Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, is moving the Commission to advance policies that will support this approach. We should support the FCC’s efforts to navigate the political blizzard they are going to face from the incumbent network providers and their lobbyists who are sure to declare such an approach as the equivalent of the end of the world.

Needed: Bold Leadership and Commitment

 Building our own future requires bold leadership and commitment from our County Executive, city mayors and other elected officials. We at OneCommunity urge them to embrace the vision of 21st century infrastructure that enables desirable jobs, education, health and innovation.

 The challenge facing our region is so big and so important that we can’t leave it to our politicians alone to conceive, legislate, and implement a project of this magnitude. They need to think about the creation of a regional broadband fiber-optic network as the equivalent of creating a port authority for 21st century transportation that will support each cluster of communities across the region.

 To be sure, there is still a need to continue educating those in a position to advance policy.  We all hope that our elected officials are first and foremost committed to the democratic ideal informing our Constitution. Next-generation technologies are not just for social networking app developers and meet-ups. These technologies are for those who are prepared to embrace the real power of netizenship to advance new forms of democratic decision making, community organizing, and civic work.

 The OneCommunity Experience

 In November 2009, more than two years before Google began lighting up Kansas City, Case Western Reserve University announced a 104-household gigabit network research program called the Case Connection Zone on Hesller Street. The project was led by a partnership including more than 40 community partners and a dozen leading technology vendors, including OneCommunity.

A proto-type of a 21st-century integrated public services platform, the Case Connection Zone became a national ‘beta block’ with visitors, including Google, seeking a glimpse into the future and the art of the possible.

 In addition, OneCommunity has partnered with Judson Manor and Case Western Reserve University to pilot the nation’s first senior’s residential facility. More recently, we have lit up the Shaker Heights “fiberhood” around the Shaker Launch House.

 Our Regional and Local Leaders Must Take the Lead

 As the leaders of Cleveland and northeast Ohio think about how to respond to the Google “moon-shot” announcement, we at OneCommunity urge them to consider building on our existing home-grown strengths.

 Cleveland is a mosaic of distinct neighborhoods and cultural communities. So let’s design our own future by embracing common technical standards, leveraging our local middle-mile assets and challenging our region’s technology leaders to join our civic, philanthropic and other community leaders to help re-imagine, re-invent, and re-invigorate Northeast Ohio.

Google’s challenge is a clarion call for the region’s technology community, civic leaders, city planners and elected officials to resist the temptation to settle for an inadequate 25-year design for our region’s network infrastructure simply because some believe it is ‘the best we can hope for.’

About OneCommunity

OneCommunity is not-for-profit that owns and operates an ultra-high-speed fiber-optic broadband network covering almost 2,000 miles around Northeast Ohio.  It improves the capabilities of more than 2,300 connected institutions such as hospitals, schools, libraries and government offices.  It is also uniquely shared with other wired and wireless communications providers to improve their capabilities to serve the region.  The network is a platform for innovation and collaboration, enabling a variety of beneficial programs and applications in health care, education, government and public safety.  It is also an ideal test environment for researchers, technology companies and entrepreneurs.

You can download the full white paper here.

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