Changing Broadband Needs in Pandemic-Era Cities
“For a long time we’ve talked about how everybody’s moving to cities […] but I think the pandemic is making people rethink that a little bit if they can get broadband in a rural community.” – Rob McCann, Founder, Clearcable
I spoke last week with with Rob McCann, the Founder of Clearcable, an Ontario-based supplier of broadband connectivity. I discussed how the pandemic and stay-at-home orders have impacted the supply and demand of broadband among their clients throughout North America. My key take-aways from this discussion:
- Clearcable saw its broadband usage jump 25% immediately following the stay-at-home orders in March. His explanation of how Clearcable was able to absorb this instant demand spike is a clear example of the rewards of long-term infrastructure planning.
- I was intrigued by his explanation of how cities can derisk the economics of rural broadband connectivity by entering the market as Open Access networks or fully competitive ISPs.
- Rob believes the pandemic and work-from-home options have slowed urban migration trends and, indeed, presented broadband connectivity as an antidote to the rural-urban migration that has characterized so much of the discussion around urban sustainability over the last 20 years. Do you agree or disagree? Please add your comments below.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
I spoke last week with Krishna Desai from Cubic Transportation, and we discussed three big problems facing transportation, and the ways that Cubic is approaching these challenges:
1) If (or when) more workers return to traditional on-location jobs, but feel a lingering distrust of crowded spaces, people who can afford it may opt for private cars instead of using public transit for their commute. This will create a massive influx of cars on roads that were already crowded, and more financial woes for transit agencies already dealing with budget shortfalls. Krishna told me about a suite of optimization tools Cubic is deploying in places like Mexico and San Francisco to make public transit more efficient, more transparent, and, overall, more attractive to riders.
2) For the time being, though, we’re dealing with the opposite problem. How can transit agencies find ways to influence user behavior in a way that complies with social distancing and capacity requirements? How can you incentivize riders to wait for the next bus? (In a way that doesn’t alienate them forever – see #1). Cubic has deployed a loyalty/advertising program in Miami-Dade County that was originally intended to increase ridership, but is now being used to help control crowding and social distancing on transit.
3) Transportation infrastructure, in generally, was not built to accomodate 6-feet of separation between riders – or between workers. Little things like, for example, opening gates, requires workers to be closer than 6-feet to riders, and there are examples like that throughout every transit hub. Technology can help, but creating and implementing software/hardware solutions quickly and efficiently requires experience with innovation, deployment, maintenance and more. Cubic has a program called Project Rebound that shows the possibilities.
Advanced Urban Visioning offers a powerful tool for regions that are serious about achieving a major transformation in their sustainability and resilience. By clarifying what optimal transportation networks look like for a region, it can give planners and the public a better idea of what is possible. It inverts the traditional order of planning, ensuring that each mode can make the greatest possible contribution toward achieving future goals.
Advanced Urban Visioning doesn’t conflict with government-required planning processes; it precedes them. For example, the AUV process may identify the need for specialized infrastructure in a corridor, while the Alternatives Analysis process can now be used to determine the time-frame where such infrastructure becomes necessary given its role in a network.
The introduction of intelligent transportation systems, which includes a broad network of smart roads, smart cars, smart streetlights and electrification are pushing roadways to new heights. Roadways are no longer simply considered stretches of pavement; they’ve become platforms for innovation. The ability to empower roadways with intelligence and sensing capabilities will unlock extraordinary levels of safety and mobility by enabling smarter, more connected transportation systems that benefit the public and the environment.