Voices of Digital Communities

The Invisible Bridges of Dublin

Infrastructure – visible or not, inspiring or not – enables economic growth.

by / February 10, 2011

Bridges are my favorite form of infrastructure.  I mean no disrespect to roads, docks, runways, tunnels, electrical conduit or water and sewer pipes.  But they do not inspire the imagination as does the soaring leap of a suspension bridge or even the pedestrian thrust of a bridge built on horizontal beams.  The bridge’s allure lies in its defiance of gravity – which is also the source of its peril for gephryophobes or people with a fear of crossing them. 

When it comes to stirring the imagination, however, no physical infrastructure can compete with the invisible kind.  In Dublin, Ohio, USA – the second of our Top Seven Intelligent Communities – that invisible infrastructure is called DubLink. 

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Following telecommunications deregulation in 1996, Dublin began installing a network of underground conduit to encourage deployment of broadband by private carriers.  Through a public-private partnership with the Fishel Company, Dublin then built and lit the DubLink fiber network to connect city facilities and replace telephone company service. 
In managing DubLink, the city drew a bright line between public and private use. The city delivers no services except for governmental use.  DubLink carries robust e-government services, from online registration for classes, tax filing and permits to remote attendance at City Council meetings.  For public services, Dublin leases either conduit space or its own dark fiber to carriers serving the local market. It is an "open access" strategy that has proven successful in communities as diverse as Stockholm, Sweden (2009 Intelligent Community of the Year) and Loma Linda, California (2007 Smart21 Community). 

But DubLink was not an island of fiber in a sea of dial-up service.  Through a series of capacity-sharing deals, Dublin connected its network with regional and state networks linking to universities, research institutes, carrier hotels and global carriers.  And this invisible, interconnected infrastructure began to transform the community.  It allowed schools, businesses and institutions to explore experimental networking technologies through Internet2, where the next generation of commercial networking technologies is taking shape.  An annual Ohio Supercomputer Center project uses videoconferencing to bring together thousands of elementary and secondary school students for an all-day learning conference.  The city partners with state government to promote OhioMeansJobs, a career Web site currently hosting 8 million resumes and hundreds of job openings. 

DubLink is also the backbone for a WiFi network that currently covers the city center and is budgeted to expand across all of Dublin’s 25 square miles.  Through another public-private venture, Dublin contributes its infrastructure (network and hotspots on city property) and a private company, HighSpeedAir, provides services and markets access to small businesses.  The city uses the network for mobile computing by its first responders and field staff, fleet monitoring of snow plows and video monitoring of traffic.   It also supports management of  city-sponsored cultural events, like the Dublin Irish Festival weekends and the Jack Nicklaus' PGA Memorial Tournament.

Infrastructure – visible or not, inspiring or not – enables economic growth.  By creating assets shared by all, it reduces the effect of income inequality and knits a community together.  But infrastructure is only the beginning.  Dublin is using its invisible infrastructure to maintain and grow a competitive economy for today’s citizens and the next generation.  Read the full case study to learn how.

Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.