Articles

‘Game of Gigs’ Organization Aims to Expand Bloomington, Ind., Broadband

Mayor John Hamilton repeatedly has pushed for the creation of a citywide, community-controlled broadband network since his campaign.

by Megan Banta, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind. / March 2, 2016

(TNS) -- For Bloomington, Ind., citywide broadband should be less a question of if and more a question of how, local and national experts said Tuesday.

“Today is a beginning, not an ending,” Mayor John Hamilton said at the end of a four-hour symposium focusing on the benefits of high-speed network connectivity for economic development and quality of life in Bloomington. “My head is buzzing ... in a good way.”

Hamilton repeatedly has pushed for the creation of a citywide, community-controlled broadband network since his campaign.

And on Tuesday, experts told him and other community leaders and residents that the city’s making the right move.

“It does not take a genius ... to realize that the networks of today are not going to be sufficient for tomorrow,” Blair Levin said.

Levin, executive director of Gig.U, an organization dedicated to accelerating the deployment of world-leading, next generation digital networks across the country, said a boom in network upgrades since 2010 has led to something his organization calls the “Game of Gigs.”

A play on “Game of Thrones,” this game is one in which “You upgrade or you die.”

That’s something that isn’t yet true, Levin said, but advocates hope it soon will be true that providers have to upgrade their speeds to survive.

“It will eventually be true,” he said. “You will need better networks to survive.”

That same argument is true for cities, he said — “(People) don’t want to have second-class networks in their cities.”

Local experts and an analyst with a firm the city has hired as a consultant agreed that connectivity quickly is becoming a must for cities.

“It is no longer just maybe we have it. It is we have to have it,” said Lynn Coyne, president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corp. “It’s an essential utility.”

Coyne called high-speed digital access a “critical factor in recruiting and maintaining” talent, especially because Bloomington’s competitive edge in attracting both people and companies is “who we are and what we have to offer.”

“And that’s why this broadband is so very important,” he said.

Brad Wheeler, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at Indiana University, agreed that it’s “immensely important to get broadband to homes and businesses” for purposes of recruiting both students and staff and faculty.

“As we attract people here, we are up against places that are continuing to make the kind of investments (in digital infrastructure) that Blair (Levin) was talking about,” Wheeler said.

Dave Jent, the university’s associate vice president for networks, said that’s particularly true because as IU increases its bandwidth, students — 23,000 of whom live off campus — and university employees come to expect the same connectivity across the city.

Elise Kohn, of CTC Technology & Energy, the Maryland-based contractor advising the city, said high-speed networks are a quality of life point.

“It’s not hypothetical when we say young people look for networks like this when deciding where to live,” Kohn, an IU alumna, said. “It’s a very real factor.”

Levin said Bloomington has a clear case, from research facilities to cultural institutions to its hospital, for investing in a high speed network.

And Coyne said the city has “the assets, the will and the ability to make it happen.”

“Bloomington has the capacity to be great. We have the resources,” he said. “It is simply exercising the will to be extraordinary.”

That’s something Mike Trotzke, co-founder of SproutBox, said the city needs to be doing now — and that the city needs to decide whether it’s going to be ahead of the curve or behind it.

“We must act, and we must produce something that is unique,” Trotzke said, adding that other cities are passing Bloomington on that front. “You’re basically setting a ceiling for the community every time you don’t make these advancements.”

Levin told Hamilton that the mayor’s vision for a citywide, community-controlled broadband network is the right one, but that he’ll also have to consider both what model the city should follow and how the market responds.

At the end of the symposium, Hamilton asked for engagement from the community as the city moved forward in the process of considering options.

The first step in that process already is underway — the city is set to issue a request for information by the end of the month to gauge interest from prospective partners.

“It is no longer just maybe we have it. It is we have to have it. It’s an essential utility. ... Bloomington has the capacity to be great. We have the resources. It is simply exercising the will to be extraordinary.”

Lynn Coyne, president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corp., talking about creating a citywide broadband network

“We must act, and we must produce something that is unique. You’re basically setting a ceiling for the community every time you don’t make these advancements.” Mike Trotzke, cofounder of SproutBox, talking about creating a citywide broadband network

©2016 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.