Smart Cities Council Comes to Virginia

The Smart Cities Council recently held a “Readiness Challenge” workshop in Virginia. I’ve banged the Smart Cities drum on and off over the years, but gave up when I saw so little reader interest. But I’ll take one more whack with a percussion mallet because the “smart cities” concept seems to be gaining momentum. The fact that several high-level people in the Northam administration attended the workshop signals more official interest than in the past.

A big focus of the workshop was universal broadband — bringing the benefits of high-speed Internet access to rural communities and the inner city. News that I had missed: Virginia now has a “chief broadband advisor” — Evan Feinman, who had served previously as executive director of the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

Other topics discussed:

  • Mobility options. Use smart mobility to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Energy planning. Deploy smart technologies to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.
  • Public safety. Improve data coordination between state agencies to address more complex public safety threats.
  • Standardize data. Improve data governance, develop a common architecture and data platform, and create incentives for data owners to work together. Also, prepare the next generation of data workers.

Information technology is not a silver bullet for Virginia’s immense challenges. But it is a potentially useful tool. Hopefully, some of the ideas spawned by this workshop will percolate through the impermeable strata of politics and bureaucracy to be adopted in the real world.

Read the Smart Cities Council account of the workshop here.

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8 responses to “Smart Cities Council Comes to Virginia”

  1. “So little reader interest”?? Not here.

    The spread of affordable broadband to those without access to it or unable to afford it is a huge issue and I applaud the attention being paid to broadband access in education and workforce training circles. But let’s not forget an important piece of collateral damage: wherever the internet comes to the masses, local newspapers and local businesses suffer and local voters become worse informed and poorer citizens. It would pain me to see the “Gloucester Mathews Gazette-Journal,” a community newspaper in the best tradition, built by a venerable politician, John Warren Cooke, displaced by easy access to broadband without a thought to the consequenses.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Not here either.

    In fact – one of the key issues here is what Role government should play in broadband and what should we leave to the free market?

    Is it govt’s job to provide broadband to everyone?

    not to be ignored is the fact that cell towers now provide the internet to
    those who do not have land-line internet.

    Oh – and on the city wi-fi issue – we already have security cameras but we could have real-time cameras for things like police cams – patrol and body….combine real-time cameras with facial recognition and what is a bad guy to do? Is that why crime is plummeting?

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I bet they had great wi-fi connectivity in those hurricane shelters…..

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I don’t think this has much to do with people having access to broadband. It’s about connecting smart devices together – the so-called “Internet of Things” or “IoT.” For example, improving traffic flow to avoid congestion, blocking the box, lane weaving and air pollution from idling vehicles by knowing what’s out there and making decisions about signal lights, turn lanes, speed limits, etc.

    How many times have you driven in Fairfax County and see a stream of cars move from a green light one quarter mile to be hit with a red light? Today, VDOT does this by programming lights and ticketing cars for blocking the box once in a blue moon. IoT can allow decisions to be made flexibly in reaction to demand and speed, etc.

    One of my clients is a major research university heavily involved in smart cities research using the experimental radio licenses we get from the FCC’s Office of Engineering & Technology. I have another client that is using cellular roaming agreements for access to LTE technology to connect smart devices.

    Fairfax County Police are trying to get all the landowners in Tysons to link their private security camera systems with public systems to better protect Tysons and improve traffic flow and safety. Again one of my clients is working on software that can spot anomalies in security camera footage so that, instead of employees watching many video screens to look for problems, the software can automatically switch the video to a location with an anomaly, such as a person jumping a fare gate at a Tysons rail station. Software would then “follow” the individual, quite possibly to one of the malls so that shoplifting or car tampering can be caught in real time.

    This is smart cities. The idea of a tobacco executive running Virginia’s program is scary as hell. More good ole boy politics.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    VDOT does the traffic devices. Police do enforcement. They’re separate things.

    in terms of the IOT – the question is – is that a free-market capability – or does govt have the responsibility to do it.

    I’m talking about MORE than just some local jurisdiction – like Fairfax.

    If you put up such infrastructure on I-66 in Fairfax what happens in Arlington and Loudoun?

    If Fairfax County police link up with privately-owned cameras – is there some kind of standard? Who would develop that standard and actually interface with citizens to do the hookup? Are we saying that we need to hire more people to work for the govt to do that?

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      If anything is ripe for public-private partnerships, it’s smart cities. The federal government will provide the radio frequencies under FCC licensing. Fiber optic backhaul will be provided by private businesses often in government RoW under federal, state and local regulations.

      Many devices will be connected through small cell radio equipment operated mainly by private entities but also by government agencies and located on public and private RoW, chiefly under federal regulation.

      There are many unsolved issues, including , interconnection, coordination, security and privacy issues, as well as intellectual property.

      The goal is not to add more positions and total expenses but rather, to provide better service at lower cost. Some discussions with FCPD have suggested it is interested in doing more with less.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    I agree. I don’t think the private sector can do it alone – even if they get allocated frequencies and right-of-way.

    And you will need more govt staff to coordinate, maintain and operate. The savings should come from other agencies that benefit from increased productivity and capabilities.

    So that means, for instance, than the Fire Dept cannot offer more for less unless they get “more” technology – that costs up front – both inside the FD but also the ability to get to the internet and interfaces with other agencies like those that do GIS or traffic signal technology to halt traffic at traffic signals as the Fire equipment traverses through them.

    Can/should the private sector be leading/guiding/coordinating these things or it is the govt that sets the framework and policies and decides what the private sector does (and does not) do in these “partnerships”?

    I was pretty shocked during the last hurricane to find out that emergency first responders were seriously crippled in their abilities because the cell towers got whacked. They had embedded cell phone technology into their operations!

    All the more ironic was the fact that we found this out from on-the-scene news organizations that brought their own coms – satellite phones and broadcast dishes… so the news folks were on the ground – up and running – and the emergency responders were back to 20th-century type operations!!

  7. vaconsumeradvocate Avatar

    Continue to believe this is important since I live in an area unserved by “real” broadband. All I can get is over the air for a very high price for what I get. It’s frustrating but Smart Cities doesn’t make people think about rural areas. The investment is happening in cities but not rural areas because the only thing that matters is the profit potential. Today there are no considerations for ensuring everyone has reasonable access to the critical technology of our time. There are no incentives, as were provided in the past, to ensure that everyone is served.

    Last night as we watched election results, the video from Tim Kaine’s acceptance was awful. The local TV said they were using cellular service and they guessed there was lots of competition for signal. That is the kind of thing those of us forced to use only over the air experience all the time. I suspect the TV will return to other technology but we don’t have the option.

    We’ve got to figure out how to get things to happen with more than just where can you make the most money. Areas left out of the technology are not going to be sustainable – due to inability to use modern medical care as well as inability to use the internet effectively for business. Ignoring such areas just makes them less likely to ever be competitive and self-sufficient.

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