A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) Summit in Columbus, Ohio, the reigning Intelligent Community of the Year for 2015. Annually, the ICF Summit brings together Mayors and officials from local and regional government, business and technology leaders from around the world to explore how Intelligent Communities enable growth and empower citizens. Attendees learn from each other through content-rich presentations and abundant opportunities for networking.
Ontario was well represented with delegations attending from Sarnia Lambton, Stratford, Grey County, York Region, and Hamilton.
Intelligent Communities are not necessarily large cities.
Some of the most interesting communities are smaller ones that have initiated innovative policies and practices to help themselves grow and prosper, including previous top ICF winners LaGrange, Georgia, USA (pop. 30,000) and Whanganui, New Zealand (pop. 43,000) which made the Top7 this year.
ICF events have a heavy focus on broadband. The view of many of the Summit presenters is that broadband infrastructure must be treated as a priority. In today’s world, it is a utility, not a luxury. It was also stated that there is a role for municipalities to play in improving broadband.
In November 2015, I wrote on this page about broadband as an economic driver. In Ontario, the relevant regional initiatives are Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) and SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology or SWIFT. There is a strong case to be made for improving broadband, but to date costs and lack of interest have held back many rural areas of this province.
Broadband is not the silver bullet solution
According to ICF Senior Fellow Norman Jackniss, broadband is necessary but not sufficient cause of growth. To be successful, broadband must be tied to other forms of community development as well. These include
- developing the workforce for local business and home-based income
- connecting people to lifelong learning
- effective leadership
- collaboration (it’s all about collaboration these days, not competition)
- focus on long-term sustainability
Research from Queen’s University (PDF) on economic impact of rural broadband in Ontario had mixed findings. Overall the results suggested that broadband helps businesses in service industries overcome geographical barriers that have traditionally hampered rural employment growth, and in so doing, limits the urban/rural employment gap.
More on broadband in future posts…
Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator