2 Canadian communities among the Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2019

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The Intelligent Community Forum recently announced the Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2019, and two of them are Canadian!

The Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2019:

  • Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada

  • Chicago, Illinois, USA

  • Hudson, Ohio, USA

  • Sarnia-Lambton County, Ontario, Canada

  • Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

  • Taoyuan, Taiwan

  • Westerville, Ohio, USA

“This year’s group comes from countries that have been applying the ICF Method and investing in their own technology, business growth and educational expansion systematically for a long time,” says ICF Co-Founder Lou Zacharilla. “They may not be as familiar to the world as some of our previous recipients, but in this century, it is becoming obvious that any place can become great once the playing field is leveled. Thanks to digital technology, the size and location of a community matter far less than ever before. People can stay home and thrive. That’s the good news that these seven will carry to New York and around the world.”

The Intelligent Community of the Year will be announced on June 13, 2019 at the ICF Summit in New York City. I’m hoping Abbotsford or Sarnia-Lambton County can snag the top spot, but even making the Top7 is a huge accomplishment.

What I like about the ICF Intelligent Community Awards is that they don’t only look at the technology involved. It’s not just about becoming a smart city. It’s about the effort made and systems implemented to become a cohesive, sustainable community, and in this day and age, broadband infrastructure is necessary to accomplish this.

An intelligent community works for students, families, working professionals, seniors, tourists, commuters, a spectrum of industries, and every other citizen. The most effective way of connecting everyone to everything is via reliable and affordable, high-speed, fibre Internet.

With 80% of Abbotsford’s land protected for agricultural use, the majority of the nearly 150,000 residents are concentrated in one area, with farmers peppered across the region. Partially thanks to their fibre network, Abbotsford farmers have the highest income per acre compared to other farmers in Canada.

The largest employer is the Abbotsford Regional Hospital, there’s an international airport, and also the University of the Fraser Valley. With a variety of industries surrounded by agriculture, being connected with reliable, high-speed broadband is essential for both local and global growth.

One of the reasons Abbotsford made the Top7 list was because of its established fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) network. More than 90% of homes and businesses are connected to a fibre network due to an investment by Telus of more than $80 million. The network allows for upload and download speeds of 300 Mbps, and has the potential for 1 Gbps.

Zayo also deployed a fibre network, and Shaw expanded the public Wi-Fi network, creating 1,000 hotspots across Abbotsford, including in all city-owned facilities. To me, this is the place to start. Municipalities have the power to offer citywide Internet for free, especially on properties they own. Whether it’s a library, recreation centre, or town hall, a reliable Internet connection for City employees and citizens makes operations faster and more efficient, which leads to financial savings and even high morale.

In Sarnia-Lambton County, 60% of the population lives in Sarnia, and the other 40% are spread out across 2,800 square kilometres. The ICF post says that the primary industries include petrochemical, refining, agriculture, and tourism. Each one of these benefit from a fibre connection.

The rural areas are supported by two long-running rural telecom operators, Brooke Telecom and Hay Communications, both of which are expanding their fibre networks. Brooke Telecom is currently offering 1 Gbps Internet for $109.95 a month to rural farms and other areas with fewer than 1,500 residents. Again, this is a great start, but I do feel that the price can get under $100. I believe people living in rural areas should have equal access to affordable 1 Gbps Internet, like their urban neighbours in Toronto, who have high-speed options for well under $100 a month. In my research, I’ve found that more competition between ISPs equals more competitive pricing. As the broadband infrastructure expands and more ISPs enter the market, the County will see prices drop.

In 2014, I conducted an informal study of the past recipients of the Smart21, Top7 and Intelligent Communities of the Year. From the inception of the ICF in 2004 to 2014, more than 75% of the Intelligent Communities, of all types, had some form of municipally-owned broadband infrastructure. The share of government networks was even higher, at 90%, when nationally-owned and/or nationally mandated and funded broadband infrastructure was included. For example, Singapore, the first Intelligent Community of the Year in 2004, as of December 2017, has almost 100% FTTP coverage mandated and funded by the central government, according to APAC. Top7 2019 recipients, Abbotsford and Sarnia-Lambton, are building municipally-owned networks and working with local small telecom service providers to deliver FTTP. 

Equitable and ubiquitous access to the Internet is an essential utility, like good roads, clean water and reliable electricity, which is why municipalities need to have a say in the deployment of broadband infrastructure in their communities. There are many models for achieving ubiquity and equity of Internet access, but one thing is certain, more competition, leads to better coverage, higher performing Internet connections and lower rates. Ultimately, ubiquitous and equitable access to the Internet is now a human right, as it is a determinant of one’s equal access to healthcare, education, government and marketplaces.  For municipalities, the stakes couldn’t be higher as the future economic prosperity and social well-being of their residents hang in the balance and their ability to build the intelligent community of tomorrow with smart systems depends on the availability of ubiquitous, highly-available and scalable connectivity today.

The ICF’s Virtuous Cycle starts with broadband, which fuels the knowledge workforce, leading to greater innovation, digital equality, sustainability, and then advocacy. When a municipality sees it work in another municipality, the model can be shared, and the cycle continues until everyone is connected.

Both Abbotsford and Sarnia-Lambton County have many other initiatives and programs that make them a couple of the most intelligent communities in the world! I wouldn’t be surprised if other municipalities are already making note of their accomplishments.

Make sure you read all about the other Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2019!

Campbell Patterson