The Province of Ontario finally recognizes the importance of connectivity

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Having read, “Government of Ontario Building Better Lives: Ontario’s Long-term Infrastructure Plan,” over the weekend, I think this Plan represents a pivotal moment for communities to align with the Province across the board with their cluster ministries.

As well, the recently announced Smart City Challenge Fund of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) puts funding on the table in early 2018.

Minister of Infrastructure, Bob Chiarelli, recently announced the Provincial Government’s long-term infrastructure plan[1]. In his opening letter to the plan, Chiarelli states, “The plan is about building roads and highways and modernizing transit to ease the stresses of everyday travel; it is about providing essential services such as water, gas, and broadband Internet to homes in a safe, reliable and timely manner. And it is about ensuring that Ontarians have access to modern, world-class health care, education and community services.”[2]

This is significant because it’s the first time in a major strategy announcement that the Province has articulated the symbiotic relationship between all of these infrastructures and services with broadband and IoT; and the role connectivity will play to enable the services delivery envisioned.

“These challenges require bold action as we design the next generation of infrastructure and shape the Ontario of tomorrow with innovations like ‘The Internet of Things.’  We have committed to spending about $190 billion over 13 years, starting in 2014–15, to expand and renew Ontario’s infrastructure,” said Chiarelli.

Dig Once

Ontario’s Long-Term Infrastructure Plan states, “Having to experience multiple ‘digs’ in the same location is a long-standing complaint from communities, businesses and residents. Multiple digs also increase the impact of infrastructure investments on the natural environment. Using a ‘one-dig’ policy to coordinate construction of roads, water and wastewater infrastructure, broadband, and utilities could help reduce these impacts.”[3]

The Long-Term Plan further says, “For example, if a community needs to repair a watermain and will have to install broadband fibre cables, a one-dig policy would encourage these two construction projects to happen at the same time, rather than having two separate construction projects in the same place at different times.”[4]

The vision of broadband as an essential utility has been validated yet again.

Community Hubs

“As the government makes infrastructure investments, it is moving away from single-use facilities to an integrated multiple-uses approach. A community hub can be a school, a neighbourhood centre, a cultural organization or another public space (e.g., a library, a community museum) that offers co-located or integrated services, such as housing, children’s services, Indigenous community services, seniors’ housing, health care, employment and training, education and poverty reduction. Each hub is as unique as the community it serves. Community hubs can also provide infrastructure for settlement supports for new immigrants and important community supports to integrate newcomers into communities throughout the province.”[5]  

Connecting these community hubs and then erecting wireless towers at each hub site would be a synergistic and cost-efficient way to make broadband Internet available to underserved and unserved areas of the community in the short-term and enable ubiquitous IoT in the long-term.  

Integrated Infrastructure

As shown in Figure 1 “Infrastructure touches Ontarians lives every day. It’s so seamless that it can be easy to overlook the services that Ontarians depend on, from clean water and energy to high-speed Internet, to roads and public transit. Ontario families benefit from good schools, high-quality health care and community services. Infrastructure investments improve the quality of life every day across the province.”

The Provincial Government concludes by saying, “The government will develop a broadband strategy that will outline a vision for broadband connectivity, identify key priorities and outline a roadmap to achieving them.”[6]

Figure 1: How infrastructure supports Ontarians throughout their lives

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There are opportunities for smart city pilots regarding transportation, utilities, municipal services, businesses, and/or homes. For example: 

TRANSPORTATION: Smart transit, smart parking, smart traffic management, smart roads, and smart/autonomous vehicles.

UTILITIES: Smart lighting, smart utilities, smart metering, smart solid waste, smart waste water, smart renewable energy generation, and a smart grid.

SERVICES: Open data, open access to services, digitized searchable database access, virtual city hall, and digital equality policies and programs.

BUSINESSES/HOMES: Smart lighting, smart appliances, smart metering, smart renewable energy generation, smart waste water, smart vehicles, and smart materials and construction.

“Ontario’s businesses will require widely available, reliable, fast and affordable access to digital infrastructure. As the government invests in broadband infrastructure, it must ensure that the technology is future-ready and will still be relevant in 20 years.”[7]

The crazy thing is there are over 40 references in this Long-Term Infrastructure Plan to “broadband” and 15 references to “Internet."  However, if you read “Patients First: Action Plan for Healthcare” or “Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario” you won’t find one mention of “broadband” or “Internet."

So, this Long-Term Infrastructure Plan is a transformational evolution in the Province’s thinking by finally recognizing the importance of connectivity in achieving the government’s agenda. Coupled with SCC criteria and funding, this moment in time represents a perfect storm for communities to advance their transformational ideas and to accelerate their emerging IoT-based Smart City plans.

[1], Minister’s letter

[2], Minister’s letter

[3], page 22

[4], page 22

[5], page 32

[6], page 150

[7], page 38