N.B. premier honoured for pushing broadband

Canadian communities continue to be honoured by a group that encourages local and regional governments to extend broadband to their residents.

New Brunswick premier Shawn Graham is the latest to be recognized by the Intelligent Community Forum after being named visionary of the year for pushing high speed access to rural as well as urban areas of the province.

Waterloo, Ont. mayor Brenda Halloran was also named chair of the new Intelligent Communities Association, a group of 86 cities and regions worldwide that will encourage communities to spread broadband. Waterloo was named the ICF’s Intelligent Community of the Year in 2007.

The awards were presented earlier this month at the forum’s annual conference in New York City.

In a news release the forum said Graham was chosen for his dedication to making New Brunswick the first complete broadband province in Canada and transforming its educational system to pursue a knowledge-based economy.

“Our economy has traditionally been based on natural resources—what we extract from the sea, the forests and the ground,” Graham said in accepting the award. “But New Brunswick has been working hard to transition to a new knowledge-based economy.”

Over 20 years ago New Brunswick set itself up to become a telecom centre, attracting a number of call centres for enterprises. The government then created Connect NB, a network of 200 community access centers in rural towns and villages that provided tools and technology for adults who needed to upgrade their skills and credentials, search for jobs and access government services. 

During Graham’s tenure, two of the province’s cities were named to the ICF’s list of intelligent communities of the year:  Fredericton, the provincial capital, and Moncton.

New Brunswick’s pace has been helped by the move by Atlantic Canada telco Bell Aliant Regional Communications Income Fund to bring fibre optic cable to every home in Fredericton and Saint John. Fibre to the home (FTTH) will be added to Bathurst, Miramachi and Monton.

Fredericton also has a free city-wide Wi-Fi zone. Through a partnership with wireless provider Barrett Xplore, the province was able to extend broadband to the furthest reaches of the province.

The next innovation in computers might come from New Brunswick, Graham said, because of its fast Internet connectivity.

Also at the conference, Suwon, South Korea was named 2010 Intelligent Community of the Year. Suwon has built the world’s fastest, large municipal network, improving connection speeds from an already impressive 32M to 1Gbps. The infrastructure is being used to enhance education, library development, and e-government.

One of the finalists in that category was the city of Ottawa for its public-private partnerships led by the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation. According to a forum news release, the city’s innovation strategy is being developed to fast-track job, business and investment creation.  Universities offer entrepreneurship training to faculty members, and graduate and undergraduate programs in computer games, sustainable energy engineering, animation and IT.  One program funded by a venture capital firm pairs new graduates with seasoned entrepreneurs to bring new technology for market in as little as one year. 

Created in 2004, the forum is made up of a number of government and university groups – including Laurentian University of Sudbury, Ont. – aimed at sharing the best practices of communities aiming to widen the reach of broadband to citizens.

In addition to the community and visionary of the year awards, the forum also honours projects in what it calls Founders Awards. Winners this year included:

–The “Digital Schoolbag” project of Besançon, France. According to an ICF news release explaining the award, after competition wiped out the town’s watchmaking industry, the community fought back by leveraging its universities and grands écoles, where 24,000 students are enrolled, to finding new outlets for the skills of its citizens in precision manufacturing. 

Today, Besançon is the base for 8,900 vibrant businesses and three global competitiveness clusters: the microtechnology, biomedical and biotechnological engineering cluster and nanotechnologies.  In 1994, it became the first French city with a fiber network connecting all government and quasi-government facilities.

For the “Digital Schoolbag” project, all 3rd grade students receive a multimedia computer package.  Given to the pupils free of charge, the package comprises a computer with Pentium processor, the same educational software that is used at school (dictionaries, atlas, etc), and the option to subscribe to Internet access.  The Schoolbag also includes workshops for the parents in order to enable them to participate in their children’s learning at school.

–Tianjin Binhai New Area (TBNA), an economic and community development zone in China’s third largest city, established programs such as the Employment Services Card, Work Youth Experience and Training Database to not only connect students directly to the workplace on collaborative projects, but also keep citizens briefed on opportunities in the workforce.

In addition Tianjin Binhai University’s Technology Transfer Center has deeply integrated students at TBNA’s universities and colleges into the local economy. This has led to numerous university-industry projects to improve enormous industry clusters, including grape cultivation, winemaking and refrigeration, wastewater treatment (in papermaking), and eco-tourism, the award said.

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