Stockholm wins broadband award

This year's ICF's annual conference focused on "Building the Broadband Economy: Local Growth in a Global Economic Crisis"

New York City-based think tank Intelligent Community Forum has named Stockholm, Sweden, as the 2009 Intelligent Community of the Year. The annual gathering of global best-practices communities emphasized a "culture of use," not just access to broadband technology or "households passed" availability.

This year's ICF's annual conference, held at NYU Poly (formerly Brooklyn Polytechnic) focused on "Building the Broadband Economy: Local Growth in a Global Economic Crisis." Many of the seven finalist communities are enjoying job growth and high-tech employment vacancies in the midst of an otherwise cloudy economic climate.

The ICF awarded its Visionary of the Year award to Andre Santini, the  French minister of civil service who is also mayor of Issy-les-Moulineaux. He has guided Issy's high-tech growth plan for more than 20 years. For example, Microsoft Europe is building its newest and largest campus (besides Redmond, Wash.), in this Paris-region city, aiming for completion this summer. Overall, the Paris region is first in the European Union in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) workers.

Bristol, Va., was the United States' only Intelligent Community finalist. Bristol is notable as the first municipal network offering fiber-based, triple-play service of broadband voice, video, and Internet. Facing ferocious incumbent opposition, the struggle cost Bristol $2.5 million in legal fees for the privilege -- yet the community finally prevailed with help from its region's political representatives.

Other finalists included four European communities, and two Canadian cities -- both from New Brunswick. Billed by its Premier Shawn Graham as "Canada's smart province," New Brunswick and its communities are now pursuing the goal of 100% broadband coverage, for all residents, urban and rural.

Stockholm's success as an intelligent community was born from an economic crisis and a bursting real-estate bubble in the 1990s. Swedish budget deficits of more than 15% of GDP together with unemployment crises led to a rethinking of the capital city's way forward.

Beginning in 1994, the city built a municipally owned fiber network to be leased to carriers and businesses, providing a level playing field for business and innovation. Now with 1.2M kilometers (720,000 miles) of cable length, this "Stokab" network  is used by 90 operators and 450 primary enterprises.

Stockholm's extensive government sector, with 42,000 employees, also uses the network for an array of e-government services to citizens. Every employee gets online training three times a year to update their effectiveness in delivering services in the electronic setting.

Standing worldwide practice of "wealthy-first" on its head, the Swedish city is executing a priority goal of providing fiber access to 100% of public housing residents. Now in the final stages of the three-year project, 95,000 households will join onto this broadband network. The rest of the community is part of an overall goal of 90% of all households with fiber to the premises by 2012.

Finally, Stockholm is home to a public-private high-tech center, the Kista Science City, second only to California's Silicon Valley as a technology-intensive cluster, with about 64,000 employees working in almost 4,300 companies of all types.

Louis Zacharilla, ICF co-founder, said, "Stockholm is an ambitious community and on the move. Stockholm serves as a case study for communities where national government has taken a more prominent role during the current economic downturn."

Besides Stockholm, the 2009 intelligent city finalists were:

* Bristol, Va.

* Eindhoven Region, The Netherlands

* Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

* Issy-les-Moulineaux, France

* Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

* Tallinn, Estonia

The 2010 Intelligent Community of the Year competition opens with nominations in June and a final deadline in October. Seven new 2010 finalists will be announced at the Pacific Telecommunications Council's January 2010 conference in Honolulu.

Gillette is professor of information and communication sciences at Ball State University and a senior research fellow at the Digital Policy Institute. He has written extensively on IT and management, and worked in academic, industry and public policy organizations. He can be reached at jaygillette@bsu.edu.

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