Canadian digital strategy isn’t very smart, says consultant

The federal government’s new funding of broadband projects to ensure Canadians in outlying communities have access to Internet delivering at least 5 Mbps is less than inspiring for communities hoping to become smart cities, says a consultant.

That speed is the slowest available on a DSL connection, Campbell Patterson said in an interview Wednesday during the second annual Smart Cities conference in Toronto.

“Once again the government is aiming at 1993, driving Canada down the road while looking in the rearview mirror.” A better step would have been to bring true high-speed access to these parts of the country by means of Wi-Fi and WiMAX, using them as ‘bridging technologies.’”

Patterson was at the conference presenting a case study of how Kingston, Ont., became a top seven finalist for this year’s Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) contest. The winner will be announced in June.

Patterson, who was the project’s manager, described the role that stable, scalable broadband connectivity plays in Kingston’s “SeriouslySmart” initiative, and he highlighted the importance of vendor support.

“With the older, slow copper/wireless networks, you have no assurance of QoS for apps, and the provider makes no service level commitments,” he said. “Those commitments are absolutely critical to both business and public infrastructure.”

Those SLAs are in place at Utilities Kingston, the publicly owned utility that provides the city’s 1,000-kilometre fibre optic broadband networking services. The city’s economic development agency is leveraging this connection to lure advanced manufacturing and establish an R&D and business incubation hub tied to the city’s established academic research base.

Other summit presenters included Kristina Verner, director of intelligent communities for Waterfront Toronto. She highlighted the work that Waterfront Toronto is doing in revitalizing the city’s waterfront, a $30-billion, 25-year project. The work rests on a high-speed 1 Gbps broadband network. This infrastructure supports smart platforms that enable advanced energy management applications within buildings, connected health services for clinics and seniors’ residences, optimization of water supply, traffic flow and parking management, and a host of other services.

Verner emphasized that “digital inclusion” – the principle that all citizens should enjoy the full benefits that smart cities bring – is a mainstay of Waterfront Toronto’s approach. “We are working with affordable housing communities as well as residents of market housing,” she said. Verner also noted the major role that IBM has been playing in the project, not simply to develop underlying middleware, but also to build the end user applications that contribute directly to improved quality of life.

Besides Kingston, Toronto, King City, Ont., and Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., the conference also heard of success stories from several U.S. communities including  Chattanooga, Tenn. The relatively small city of some 167,000 built a 1 Gbps network that delivers Internet service to all residents within a 600 square mile service area. To do it, mayor Andy Berke told the conference, the city had its own public utility build out the broadband when incumbent providers balked.

This year Canada has done especially well in the ICF’s global smart city awards series. The series starts with some 400 applying municipalities from around the world, which is narrowed down to seven finalists. This year they include Kingston, Toronto and Winnipeg.

Also at the conference Tom Vair, the executive director of the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Innovation Centre, delivered a strong presentation on how a collaborative strategy led to the development of the most comprehensive geographic information systems in North America.

In a keynote, the IFC chair and co-founder, Canadian John Jung, touched on the example of the regional municipality of Piraí, in the state of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. In a community suffering from severe poverty, authorities took the unusual step of providing a laptop computer to every schoolchild ten years ago. Today those schoolkids are young adults and, Jung said, they have access to educational and job opportunities unlike anything they could have enjoyed otherwise.

A textbook case of digital inclusion.

The conference was organized by the Strategy Institute.






Patterson, who was the project’s manager …….(then we need a few details of what Kingston did)

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Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks is managing editor of IT World Canada. He has been a technology journalist and editor for 20 years, including stints at Technology in Government, Computing Canada and other publications.

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