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linkNYC the gigabit free wifi network in New York City
linkNYC the gigabit free wifi network in New York City

The Internet has sped up humanity’s development to levels unthought of, but what if we could speed it up even more? Today’s technology relies heavily on connectivity, but infrastructure limitations are also limiting the speed of our development. Because internet is treated as a high-priced commodity in most cities, high­ speed internet is usually reserved for wealthier families. The consequence of this is an amplification of the social divide, which hinders economic development. Cities cannot use the tools that can help it reach smart city capacity, without reaching every single citizen.

There is no fair and just city, as long as we have a digital divide holding us back

If networks are fast, reliable and widely available, companies produce more powerful applications to run on those networks. This speeds up economic development as more startups get opportunities to create city applications to experiment, gain knowledge for the cities and transform their citizens’ lives for the better.

Gigabit cities arise to provide the necessary infrastructure. In the United States, US Ignite, a nonprofit organization funded by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation, is in charge of bringing together the stakeholders and “igniting” development of local communities.

Each of these US Ignite communities receives access to a low ­latency ultra­fast network with locavore (local cloud) computing and storage capabilities that support highly interactive and immersive experiences not possible on today’s commercial Internet. US Ignite has already assisted in building over 100 next ­generation applications over the past three years. The infrastructure, latency and speed of these gigabit cities are delivering what began as Internet2 twenty years ago. Universities and knowledge organizations saw that high speed connection was necessary to further innovation. Internet2 is working closely with US Ignite and the Sustainable Ecosystem of Smart Cities Project to facilitate deployment and adoption of gigabit applications. Now there are 12 cities working together with US ignite.

LinkNYC in New York City has opted for a commercial solution to bridge the digital divide. LinkNYC was talked about extensively last year at the Smart City Expo World Congress 2015. The LinkNYC platform, developed by Sidewalk Labs, has hotspots all over the city using the old NYC phone booth infrastructure. The wireless network was installed by NetX.

“With the rapid expansion of new technology we must be mindful not to perpetuate the digital divide, rather we must use this opportunity to close the gap.”

Minerva Tantoco, when starting on her new job as the first NYC CTO, became very aware that bridging the digital divide was fundamental in the transformation of NY into a truly just and equitable city, as well as essential for the sustainable development of New York as a smart city. “With the rapid expansion of new technology we must be mindful not to perpetuate the digital divide”, says Tantoco, “Rather we must use this opportunity to close the gap.”

And gigabit free wifi together with community efforts will reaffirm New York City as a hub for talent attracting more companies and funding, providing space, tools and dialog for economic development. A great smart city strategy if you ask me.