22 Sep Chicago's Wi-Fi inertia harms business
This week marks the third and fourth hearings on affordable Internet access for all Chicagoans by Mayor Daley’s Advisory Council on Closing the Digital Divide.
Hopefully, what the council will get out of the testimony is that Chicago needs to wake up and realize that network infrastructure is as basic to supporting the city’s growth as transportation infrastructure was 150 years ago and is still today.
Some view this council as a “make everyone feel good” council. The thought is that there is an outcry for some action, and by making up a council, everyone will feel progress has been made on developing a platform where people can suggest some ideas. Some feel no real action will take place.
This is not an initiative to take lightly. This is an initiative that is very capital intensive (especially if it’s done right).
Spending several billion dollars on upgrading O’Hare in order for it to compete with other international airports seems to be a given with most political leaders. It is a necessary critical investment for the city in order to keep a world-class image, as well as to maintain a strong global business environment.
What most politicians and municipal administrators lack is the same understanding and same commitment to ensure that the network infrastructure remains world class in order for any municipality to maintain a strong business environment.
Well-intentioned politicians and municipal administrators are not enough to build cohesive, reliable networks. You need to get well beyond the buzzwords and the key phrases. What we really need are concise standards for reliability and redundancy.
Is Chicago slipping? In the last 10 years, I think it has in some key areas. As I addressed in earlier columns, the loss of many headquarters as well as the corresponding loss of high-level and senior executive-level jobs is evident.
If you don’t believe that, take a look at chief compliance officer jobs. New York has the most openings. Still, Chicago is far from being second or third. There are more of these jobs in Charlotte, N.C. This shows a definite shift of higher level jobs out of Chicago.
C-level jobs – CIO, CFO, and COO – get located where the headquarters are located. If the headquarters in Chicago is moved or bought out, all those higher-paying executive jobs disappear as well as all the lower-level administrative positions that support those jobs.
Many mid-level and entry-level jobs also are tied into those headquarters. When they leave, those jobs disappear as well. Where, then, do people get their start out of school? Starbucks? Home Depot? Macy’s?
If opportunities become that narrow, you can bet the population will decrease in the city as more young people are forced to look elsewhere to get a decent job. Did you know Chicago has slipped into fourth place in population? Houston is now third in back of New York and Los Angeles.
Lack of infrastructure = downward vortex
With competition for companies to locate into metropolitan areas so critical today, an insufficient infrastructure will create a downward vortex. The more time that is wasted, the more the vortex accelerates. It pulls down the economy and sucks out the lifeblood of the metropolitan area. People tend to follow the jobs.
Although there will be some who try to refute this, they are probably the same people who think a stagecoach-era communications infrastructure will carry Chicago well into the 21st century. I don’t see Best Buy selling buggy whips next to their MP3 players and BlackBerries.
Politicians and their advisors have to understand that economic development equals broadband connectivity, and broadband connectivity equals jobs. Without good-paying jobs, there is an erosion of the tax base. Without a good tax base, state and local budgets go into a spiraling deficit.
How does Chicago measure up?
Several people encouraged me to address a hearing because of my work in understanding and integrating technology with different organizations in order to make them globally competitive. How many buildings in downtown Chicago can support the need for broadband connectivity? What about neighborhoods and other centers of interest?
At one time, some property management firms were really on top of this while the vast majority just sat and collected rent. I was involved in measuring a building’s IQ and actually pioneered the concepts back in the late 1980s while consulting with Chicago real estate firm JMB.
Some of those visionary property management people are gone and the vast majority of real estate people still focus on traditional ways to lease space.
Clinging to traditional approaches can’t guarantee success any more. Intelligent amenities like broadband connectivity and triple-play services (voice, data, and video combined) are being sought out more and more.
To the advisory council: If you truly want to establish something of real value for the future generations of the city, you should be setting the foundation for real broadband connectivity.
There was a time when arguments were made that creating the right network infrastructure would make schools obsolete. While that was too far-fetched, there are many elements of increasing the quality of education to the masses using the Internet that we are not exploiting.
With wireless Internet, you could deliver the best history class, the best math class, and the best “any” class to many more students than using the traditional way. Marginal schools could be subsidized by better instructors instantly via connectivity rather than just throwing more money at the problem, which is what we do today.
If we channel all the wasted money spent on traditional initiatives, we can find the money to fund this broadband initiative that will yield real results. The city that works? Only if it has a real network infrastructure for all to compete globally.
Carlinism: Any infrastructure should be viewed as an investment rather than an expense.
Recent articles by James Carlini
• James Carlini: Compliance at HP – Pretexting paranoia
• James Carlini: Broadband blues: Don’t fall for Lightspeed hype
• James Carlini: Technology cycles from advantage to necessity to disadvantage
• James Carlini: Fiber-optic infrastructure spurring city economic development
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.