Broadband Without Borders: Rethinking City Limits in the Age of Fiber

This post is authored by Aaron Deacon, Managing Director of KC Digital Drive

Cities are hot, and so is broadband. The two phenomena go hand-in-hand. In global urban planning circles, it’s hard to turn around these days without hearing that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. With over 80% of the US population already living in urban areas, the transformation these numbers portend is largely in the developing world. But what is the domestic implication?

The “smart city” rhetoric is slowly trickling into the American consciousness. We are not building cities from the ground up as they are in Asia, or searching for leapfrog modernization tools as they are in Latin America. But we are increasingly looking to technology tools of all stripes to increase government efficiency, maximize local resources, improve service delivery, and drive greater citizen engagement. Robust information and communications infrastructure is a critical layer on which to test and build these new tools. Cities with advanced broadband networks quickly turn to technology innovation, and those interested in technology-driven innovation seek to acquire or implement advanced broadband networks.

These changes are not always apparent to the average citizen, but they are—for the most part—accessible to the interested citizen. Accessibility rides sidecar to openness and transparency, which itself is a core value of the “next century city.” A more subtle change, though, is the understanding of what a city is. In our governance, in our census, in our policy-making—we continue to define our cities by the imaginary lines drawn on political maps. But the Internet doesn’t recognize state lines or city limits. And unlike roads, which are clearly marked, human-scale infrastructure that also traverses geopolitical boundaries, there aren’t even signposts that mark the transfer of bits and data packets from Kansas City, Kansas to Kansas City, Missouri.

The need for operating on a regional level has never been greater, and regional systems that effectively balance hyperlocal community control with systematic efficiency on a metro area level will be best-positioned for the future. Regionalism isn’t new, of course, and it isn’t without controversy. But the replicability and scalability that technology applications promise suggest that US cities competing on a global scale may have to rethink their geography and consider what it truly means to be a city in the cloud.


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