"Smart cities" meet "anchor institutions": the case of broadband and the public library.

Author:Goodman, Ellen P.
Position:Smart Law for Smart Cities: Regulation, Technology, and the Future of Cities

Introduction I. The Concepts A. The Smart City B. The Anchor Institution II. Broadband Connectivity and the Market Gap III. The Public Library and Broadband A. Anchoring Broadband Within Libraries B. Libraries as Hubs IV. Smart Cities and Civil Society Institutions Conclusion INTRODUCTION

The concepts "smart city" and "anchor institution"--both popular in policy circles--intersect at broadband infrastructure in ways that highlight the importance of civil society institutions to digital networks. Given the close alignment of broadband and smart city policy goals, the centrality of connectivity to the smart city vision, and the importance of anchor institutions to broadband, it is surprising that the smart cities discourse does not engage more directly with the role of anchor institutions. The use case of public libraries shows how anchor institutions can extend connectivity and the benefits of robust broadband. More broadly, there are lessons here about the meaning of "public-private partnerships," often at the heart of smart city plans, (1) and the virtues of strengthening the public side of that relationship.

Buzz around smart cities has been building as policymakers seek to harness information technology to improve the delivery of city services and the welfare of urban residents. (2) Whether the focus is on the Internet of Things (3) or the delivery of educational services, strong telecommunications infrastructure is a necessary component. Enter the concept of the "anchor institution" (e.g., university, library, hospital). (4) The idea that these institutions are necessary partners in urban development has been circulating in the planning literature for decades. (5) However, it was not until (2009) that the term made its first appearance in United States law, and this was in the context of broadband policy. (6) The public policy goals that anchor institutions are supposed to advance in the broadband context almost perfectly coincide with smart city goals: networking individuals and entities in ways that optimize the flow of information for social and economic advancement. (7)

We see from the broadband experience that, in the provision of network capacity, the roles of the private and public sectors--and civil society institutions that fall somewhere in between--are varied and contested. Sometimes, the public entity is nothing more than a customer of a commercial vendor. Sometimes, cities have found that they must enter into partnerships with commercial providers or deploy digital infrastructure themselves. (8)

Where cities choose to leverage the contributions of anchor institutions for better broadband service, it is usually because of a misalignment of commercial and public interests. The market is under-supplying connectivity. More than twenty states have passed laws to prohibit cities (and public anchor institutions) from being active in this way, forcing them to rely entirely on commercial providers. (9) Questions about the role of public institutions in the provision of broadband infrastructure may forecast other smart city struggles around the appropriate roles of public and private entities in meeting basic public needs.

The achievement of smart city and broadband policy goals in ways that are inclusive, democratic, and otherwise in the public interest will require the meaningful involvement of civil society institutions outside of the state and the market. These institutions will have to share in, and contribute to, the intelligence that connectivity enables. The successes and failures thus far of broadband policy to engage anchor institutions may be precursors of smart city threats and promises. This Article explores these issues in four parts. Part I describes the smart city and anchor institution concepts. Part II identifies broadband policy goals and market gaps in their fulfillment. Part III shows how anchor institutions and libraries in particular are important partners in reaching broadband infrastructure goals. Part IV then concludes with some observations for smart city initiatives in general.


    1. The Smart City

      The term "smart city" has no clear definition, as the topics for this symposium issue demonstrate. (10) A Google (U.S.) search most closely associates the term with the IBM-branded "smarter cities" initiative to produce data management systems for the delivery of city services, from police work to trash collection. (11) The term frequently refers to the use of ubiquitous sensors within urban infrastructure to generate data about usage patterns and service needs. (12) It is also an umbrella term for more sector-specific notions of "smart growth," tools like the "smart grid," and many other "smart" innovations for urban prosperity and livability. (13) Smart city initiatives cover the waterfront, from civic engagement, sustainability, and transportation to education, telecommunications, and health services. (14)

      In Europe, the "smart city" has quasi-official status, with the European Parliament ranking cities in twenty-eight nations based on performance in governance, human flourishing, livability, mobility, economy, and environment. (15) The United Kingdom has created a national smart cities office to promote the synthesis of "hard infrastructure, social capital including local skills and community institutions, and (digital) technologies to fuel sustainable economic development and provide an attractive environment for all." (16)

      Although imprecise, these conceptions of the smart city all share two features: they emphasize public-private partnerships, (17) and they place information and communications technologies (ICT) at the core of smart urban operation. (18) The smart city seeks "to address public issues via ICT-based solutions on the basis of a multi-stakeholder, municipally based partnership." (19) In the ideal smart city, robust Internet connectivity and big data analytics support the delivery of services and the creation of opportunity, enabling residents to live in more sustainable, productive, healthy, and civically engaged ways. (20)

      Given the centrality of communications networks, smart city policy necessarily implicates telecommunications policy. How will telecommunications infrastructure support universal connectivity and the Internet of Things? Over what networks will the ubiquitous sensors communicate data and to whom? Who will have access to the services that advanced networks make possible, and who will be the service providers? (21) Cities are experimenting with different interventions. The city of Lafayette, Louisiana developed a municipally owned fiber-to-the-home network which gives residents, school and hospitals better and cheaper network access. (22) In progress is New York City's very different plan to turn old payphones into fiber-connected highspeed broadband hotspots. (23) What these plans realize is that broadband connectivity--fast and capacious--is essential infrastructure for business, technical, and creative innovation, and equally crucial for educational, health, and civic applications. It is this connectivity that supports the applications and services that make cities intelligent.

    2. The Anchor Institution

      City offices, utilities, and commercial vendors all play central parts in smart city policy. (24) Community institutions have been less visible in the literature and policy proposals. The theory and practice of "anchor institutions" is helpful in addressing this gap. Over the past decade, policymakers and academics have developed the concept of the "anchor institution" as a locus of community renewal and advancement. (25) The term encompasses educational and health care institutions, libraries, museums, and other public-spirited institutions that are embedded in a community. (26)

      According to a literature survey conducted by scholars working on a foundation-funded "anchor institution initiative," the term has its origins in the urban renewal movements of the 1960's and 1970's, when universities and hospitals assumed greater service responsibilities in their communities. (27) Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. and Gavin Luter trace the first significant use of the term itself to the 2001 Aspen Institution Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives, which defined a community's "fixed assets" as anchor institutions. (28) From there, the term started to appear in urban development literature, usually referring to "Eds and Meds" that could be expected to invest in and hire from their communities. (29) Others have used the term to include purely private entities that are fixed in a community, such as sports enterprises. (30)

      The focus on local anchor institutions as generators of economic vitality is, in some sense, a response to the efficient global flow of capital and the recognition that this flow can erode community resources, leaving localities under-nourished. Anchor institutions, if properly incentivized and supported, can hold the ground and build opportunity. According to one report, "non-market, place-based institutions are ... key 'anchors' of place, for by their practices, they 'root' or otherwise 'moor' the people of the urban in place." (31)

      The term "anchor institution" entered United States law in the (2009) stimulus funding package. (32) As part of this package, Congress established the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which authorized the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to make grants to "ensure access to broadband service by anchor institutions." (33) The NTIA subsequently defined anchor institutions as "schools, libraries, medical and healthcare providers, public safety entities, community colleges and other institutions of higher education, and other community support organizations and entities." (34)

      From the stimulus legislation, the term began to make its way through federal telecommunications policy more generally. The National Broadband Plan...

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