By Jay Gillette
NEW YORK CITY – Melbourne, Australia, won “Intelligent Community of the Year” this week at the at New York-based Intelligent Community Forum’s annual ICF Summit.
The ICF also for the first time called for affordable broadband to be declared a utility for public benefit by cities and official agencies. The prestigious annual award measures communities on six “Intelligent Community Indicators”: Broadband, Knowledge Workforce, Innovation, Digital Equality, Sustainability, Advocacy.
Melbourne impressed the ICF and its international jury by the city’s commitment to fill broadband gaps left by of monopoly or duopoly providers, for its population of 130,000 in the larger metro area of 4.5 million people. Nearly 47 per cent of Melbourne’s people have a university degree. Frustrated users outside the core area pushed to develop a 100 Mbps service called “Lightning Broadband” using optical fiber and wireless to provision underserved areas.
Melbourne also scored well by committing education and technology training for lower participating groups, elders and youth in particular. Its “Code Like a Girl” initiative aims to increase skills for females from 13 through age 45, for example.
The city, which is the capital of Australia’s Victoria state, has worked with its research communities to create innovation districts and startup sites.
Yet Melbourne has also used technology to help its homeless. Surprisingly, research showed 80 per cent of the homeless had a mobile phone, so the city responded by building an app called “Ask Izzy” to direct them to shelter and practical survival resources.
ICF Board resolution calls for broadband status as utility for public benefit
This year’s ICF Summit produced another surprise, an unusual resolution from the Board of the nonprofit, nonpartisan ICF think tank.
It called for cities and agencies to declare “high-speed, high-capacity, affordable broadband a utility: an essential infrastructure service provided principally for public benefit.”
The Intelligent Community Forum stated: The resolution does not recommend or require public ownership of broadband assets. Instead, it is it is meant to encourage an increasing diversity of operating models including private ownership, public-private partnerships, open-access networks and community-owned networks to achieve the goal of ubiquitous coverage. It recognizes that “utility” – also called an “essential service” or “service of general interest” – is a term with legal ramifications.
In an era where regulators are still influenced by the deregulatory rhetoric of the late 20th century, ICT’s resolution addresses the changing role of the internet and the broadband economy in the 21st century.
As with the example of Melbourne’s homeless population with their mobile phones, communities worldwide are working against a new background of information and communication services as an essential foundation for the activities of their citizens’ daily lives.
Vietnam’s “New City” seeks Intelligent Community status from start
The summit’s annual “Revolutionary Community” keynote presentation featured Dr. Viet-Long Nguyen, an official of a state-owned development agency in Vietnam. He spoke about its Binh Duong initiative, Vietnam’s first Intelligent Community.
Relying on the ICF’s six core indicators and assistance from Eindhoven, Netherlands, the 2011 winner, the country is developing “New City,” for one million citizens, from the ground up.
Vietnam now has 93 million people, with a per-capita deployment rate of mobile phones at 145 per cent. The New City planners see opportunities in the shift of manufacturing from China to surrounding Asian nations, and the potential ASEAN market of 600 million customers.
Artificial Intelligence as a disruptive driver for smarter cities
ICF co-founder Robert Bell led an Urban Master Class with a major focus on the coming impact of artificial intelligence.
This is a component of what Bell calls “Community Intelligence,” where a significant share of a city’s citizens, employers, and nonprofits have a common understanding of issues, and collaborate to achieve a shared vision of the future.
Bell says we need a clearer view of the potential impact of artificial intelligence on jobs, quoting research that shows:
- 29 per cent of jobs are likely to see decline in demand across the board
- 32 per cent will see big disruptions that hit individuals but do not wipe out whole categories of employment
- 39 per cent of jobs will remain stable or grow.
He notes the paradox of technology innovation on bank tellers as an occupation. With the coming of the ATM (Automated Teller Machine) in the 1990s, it was seen as the trigger for a decline in bank teller employment. Yet since the year 2000, full-time human bank teller jobs have grown 2 per cent a year on average, faster than other parts of the labor force.
The reason: ATMs let banks operate branches more cheaply, which led to opening more branch banks. Human tellers now can focus on more than routine cash handling, on customer service and marketing for example. The human touch becomes a value-adding service.
Bell cited research that indicates artificial intelligence could have economic impact through increased productivity, ranging from $814 billion in the UK, $1 trillion in Germany, $2 trillion in Japan, to $8.3 trillion in USA, despite job churn.
He concludes: “So there’s a tremendous amount of potential value to unlock in this next information technology revolution. The question is how can your community position itself to gain from this change instead of being run over by it?”
Bell says Intelligent Community Forum exists to help prepare cities and citizens to find the answers, to help people see that such issues are everybody’s problem and everybody’s responsibility. He says that gives him hope in this disruptive future.
Besides the winning city of Melbourne, the complete list of 2017 intelligent community finalists is:
- Chiayi City, Taiwan
- Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
- Grey County, Ontario, Canada
- Ipswich, Queensland, Australia
- Moscow, Russia
- Taoyuan, Taiwan
The 2018 Intelligent Community of the Year competition opens with nominations in July, with the closing deadline in fall 2017. Seven new finalists will be announced early in 2018. The winner will be named at the annual Summit in June 2018, to be held in London, U.K.
Jay Gillette is professor of information and communication sciences at Ball State University, director of its Human Factors Institute, and a senior research fellow at the Digital Policy Institute. He also served as Fulbright-Nokia Distinguished Chair in Information and Communications Technologies at the University of Oulu, Finland for 2014-2015.