Guest Opinion: Palo Alto: Town of fast data and calmed traffic?
Palo Alto has a full plate. We're talking about updating our library system, building a new police building, and preparing against the prospects of avian flu, earthquakes, flooding and global warming.
We are tackling the double challenge of preserving and increasing our revenues as we lose some long-term sources and reducing our expenditures in the face of still-rising health and retirement costs. We are struggling to update the Comprehensive Plan as we face continued growth pressures on our schools and roads.
We on the City Council will soon have to decide whether we have the institutional bandwidth to continue pursuing a leading-edge citywide data network on top of all these "must-haves".
Earlier this year, the Council directed staff to prepare a request for proposals (RFP) for such a system. Our Finance Committee reviewed the draft RFP and is recommending it to the full Council on Aug. 7.
Simply put, we believe moving forward in high-speed communications is essential to fulfilling our responsibility to prepare Palo Alto for the future, both to enhance the community generally and for our economic well-being.
Palo Alto is the hometown to Stanford University, the birthplace of Silicon Valley and some of the most innovative companies in the world. We also house the original 1996 founding headquarters of the Peering And Internet eXchange (PAIX, formerly Palo Alto Internet Exchange, the leading neutral Internet-exchange service in the nation). We thus have the human and institutional resources, perhaps unique in the world, to develop a public/private partnership to leverage our top-notch human talent, public assets and private initiative into a cornerstone of Palo Alto's economic and environmental future.
Specifically, the RFP calls for proposals to help finance and build a system that provides citywide access to a minimum of 100 megabits per second symmetric (very fast two-way) service. Our goals are an open, municipally owned system but we offer flexibility in the short-term given the financing challenges.
The requirement for symmetric data capacity is key. A fast one-way system provides a passive, receive-only "entertainment" system. A two-way open network is critical to unleashing the creative energy and talent in our City and region to provide a network of health, education, energy management and other services from both for-profit and non-profit organizations.
The City of Seattle recently released the results of its Task Force on Telecommunications Innovation, a visionary effort, as the cover letter indicates:
"The task force believes Seattle must act now to foster the development of advanced broadband facilities and services for our community. Seattle cannot afford to dawdle. Broadband networks will soon become what roads, electric systems and telephone networks are today: core infrastructure of society. Lacking advanced broadband, Seattle is unlikely to maintain a competitive economy, a vibrant culture, quality schools and efficient government.
"Private markets, left alone, are unlikely to favor Seattle. City government must become a catalyst: working with the private sector to encourage their deployment of high-capacity broadband; developing the municipal network to enhance government functions and services, as well as to provide the basis for a municipal build-out, should that becomeŻnecessary; monitoring emerging technologies and adopting those that work for Seattle; and supporting new broadband enterprises.
"Together these will accelerate the deployment of broadband, enhancing Seattle's leadership position in technology, entrepreneurial innovation, education, health, public/private sector co-operation, and government service."
Palo Alto, like Seattle, can no longer "dawdle".
As we decide what we can do as one city, we also need to pay attention to the important battles going on in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., which, at the behest of the large telecommunication companies, are both considering re-writing the telecommunications rules to provide statewide or even federal franchises.
We support private enterprise but we appeal to our legislative representatives to ensure that our information highways including the "last mile" connection to your doorstep are not all controlled by private interests. That would be akin to General Motors (or Toyota) owning all the roads as well as manufacturing the vehicles that use them. Local government initiatives, such as the one we propose, will assure that there is a healthy competition in ideas such as net neutrality.
Public interest demands that net neutrality and open access be preserved. Local government initiatives, such as the one we propose, can help provide a "fat pipeline" so each home has open access to a variety of service providers, not just one.
Palo Alto's quality of life is dependent on a complex network of economic, environmental and social mechanisms that all work together. An advanced data network overlaid on this complex human and physical network is essential to maintaining and enhancing that quality of life as we move more deeply into the 21st century.
Yoriko Kishimoto and Larry Klein are members of the Palo Alto City Council. They can be e-mailed respectively at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.