Smart infrastructure strategies: The hidden wealth beneath your streets

Mon, 2013-06-10 12:51 -- Jesse Berst

Here's a short but useful article from an expert on finding hidden assets. GeoTel Communications helps cities locate un- or under-used fiber optic cable, cable they can then leverage to boost economic development. The author makes these key points:

  • "Infill" is the new buzzword in urban development -- making better use of existing assets before you look elsewhere
  • Access to high-speed telecommunications is a top-five reason companies choose one location over another
  • Broadband penetration = economic development (and the author cites hard evidence)

Do you have infill opportunities in your city? Unused fiber? Vacant lots? Abandoned buildings? Residents with under-used skills that could become relevant again with a bi of retraining? -- Jesse Berst

By Fitzalan Crowe

Across America, much of the fiber optic network was laid during the economic and technology boom of the 1990s and early 2000s. Due to a lack of software and demand, most of this technology went unused and turned into a fiber optic graveyard. Experts estimate that there is anywhere from billions to trillions of dollars of unused fiber optic cable buried across America.

Smart growth=infill

In a recent report released by Smart Growth America, it was determined that towns need to make better use of existing assets as they grow. This concept of infill, or reusing and repositioning what is already there instead of starting new, is vital for urban sustainability.

An important way for communities to better their fiscal and economic health is to understand the impact of land-use decisions and change their decision-making processes and criteria to optimize fiscal and economic well-being. (Smart Growth America - a Smart Cities Council Advisor)

Unused telecommunications infrastructure

Most cities do not have the funds to create a new telecom network, but what they don’t realize is that they may already be sitting atop miles of underutilized or unused fiber optic cables. For example, Longmont, Colorado, which is located outside of Boulder, recently located and repurposed an 18-mile fiber loop that was installed in 1997 for $1.1 million by a local power company and has been unused ever since. Finding and repurposing fiber can save cities millions in installation costs and help revitalize and invigorate the economy.

Downtown revitalization

With the recent economic upheaval, attempts to revitalize downtown areas have often failed. If cities want to revitalize their economy and increase jobs, high-speed connectivity is a must. Behind cost, parking and location, access to advanced communication services is the number one selling point for commercial real estate and economic development.

According to a 2008 study by Ohio University professors Herbert G. Thompson, Jr. and Christopher Garbacz, a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration is associated with 3.6% increase in efficiency. A 2009 study by the University of Munich found that a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration raises per-capita GDP growth by 0.9-1.5 percentage points.

According to ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communications technologies (and also a Smart Cities Council Advisor):

Broadband technology is a contributor to economic growth at several levels. First, deployment of broadband technology across business enterprises improves productivity by facilitating the adoption of more efficient business processes (e.g., marketing, inventory optimization, and streamlining of supply chains). Second, extensive deployment of broadband accelerates innovation by introducing new consumer applications and services (e.g., new forms of commerce and financial intermediation). Third, broadband leads to a more efficient functional deployment of enterprises by maximizing their reach to labor pools, access to raw materials, and consumers, (e.g., outsourcing of services, virtual call centers.)


Fitzalan Crowe is a staff writer for GeoTel Communications who splits her time between the United States and Belgium. She has her master’s degree from Virginia Tech.