Steal this idea: Your smart grid can help pay for your smart city

We've mentioned the Chattanooga success story before, but here's an article that highlights an important aspect -- how to pay for it. -- Jesse Berst


When Chattanooga decided a few years ago that it wanted to become a world-class, 21st-century city, it quickly realized it would need ultra-fast broadband access for all residents and businesses.

City residents can now browse 10 to 100 times faster than in most American cities. Yet most of them won't pay a dime for the upgrade. As the Washington Post put it in a recent story: "For that, city residents have an unlikely business to thank: the publicly owned electric utility."

Because the utility needed citywide communications to accomplish its grid modernization goals, it agreed to put in a state-of-the-art broadband network that could serve both needs. Thus, the smart grid helps subsidize consumer Internet access and vice versa.

Nor is Chattanooga the only example. Cities such as Tacoma, WA, LaGrange, GA and Blacksburg, VA took this same route more than a decade ago, as you can read here. Once Tacoma fixed its broadband problems, more than 100 companies moved in over the next 18 months, generating 700 new jobs.

I urge you to study these examples. Yes, it's true that only about 2,000 North American cities own their own utility. But what's to stop a city from partnering with a regional investor-owned utility (IOU)? It's certainly worth a meeting. Many of those IOUs are looking for ways to finance grid modernization. Teaming with cities to provide broadband access could provide them another much-needed revenue stream.

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to subscribe to SmartCitiesNow, the weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques.