Antonia Graham doesn’t want residents of Huntington Beach, Calif., to just have access to some of the best surfing around—she wants them to have access to the best broadband too.
Graham, assistant to the Huntington Beach’s city manager, is advocating for a Smart City ecosystem, one that uses technology and a modern communication infrastructure to fuel sustainable economic development. And, understanding that a fiber broadband backbone is essential for a Smart City, she and her team have spent years developing and refining their fiber master plan in hopes to develop a city-wide fiber system.
“At the end of the day, a Smart City is a city that works for everyone,” she said. “One that uses technology to improve business services, to make life better for its residents and for improving its own functions.”
She started developing her approach in 2015 when City Manager Fred Wilson created an internal telecommunications team. She and her team wanted to develop a broadband strategic plan that included a master plan for fiber. They hired Magellan Advisors and CTC Technology Environment as consultants to collect data, among other things, and found ways to implement that city-wide fiber plan.
This included using the city’s light poles. In 2017, the city acquired 11,000 streetlights from Southern California Edison. Those were retrofitted by the city, and in turn, identified as possible small cell sites. Small cell deployment requires connectivity through lots of fiber to handle massive amounts of data at fast speeds. City officials, including Graham, then moved to create a small cell over-the-counter permitting process, a wireless master plan for fiber and a robust leasing program.
Since then, they’ve been working to implement a joint trench policy. Graham said that process has been slow due to challenges like cost.
Despite this, Graham said the city has worked closely with the telecom and utility industry to create community stakeholders. She said they’ve worked with AT&T, Verizon and Philips/American Tower, to name a few.
While the city doesn’t have an “official” smart city plan, implementing a greater fiber rollout in Huntington Beach will help deploy smart technologies and build stronger public private partnerships in this sector. Parts of the plan are available on the city’s website, however the entire plan isn’t because it shows critical infrastructure.
Graham said pushing through the hurdles and developing a fiber master plan that considers not only public fiber but private fiber is the first big step in the right direction. Right now, the city owns its own fiber that connects city facilities and traffic signals.
“This helps us to prioritize our own fiber deployment to connect city facilities, deploy Smart City technologies and to lease out dark fiber,” she said.
For cities looking to launch their own Smart City initiatives—or build their own fiber master plan—she said look to other cities like Huntington Beach, and don’t be afraid to copy.
“Rip off and duplicate—no seriously,” she said. “Why reinvent the wheel? Study all existing best practices.”