Smart Gigabit Communities: How Cox is Setting Cities up for Success

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Smart gigabit communities have been popping up all over the country over the past couple of years. An initiative created and funded by the National Science Foundation’s US Ignite program, a smart gigabit community is defined by the organization as a “living lab” environment for the next generation of gigabit applications. These communities are encouraged to drive innovation and economic opportunities through utilizing high-speed networks and local resources, and Cox Communications has been a leading partner in this effort. The ISP is the first private business to fund multiple cities in the program—Phoenix, San Diego, and now Las Vegas. In an interview with NCTA, Cox Senior Vice President and Southwest Region Manager John Wolfe talked about the beginnings of Cox’s partnership with the US Ignite SGC program in Phoenix, and how residents in each of these smart gigabit communities will benefit from the next generation developments coming out of this initiative. 

"There are a million definitions for what a smart gigabit community is. But we see [these launches] as the city's leaders looking to combine their people, talent, infrastructure, connected-devices and processes in an effort to improve the quality of life for their residents. They want to help their city operate better," said Wolfe. 

The ISP was actually responsible for connecting Phoenix’s first gigabit home in 2014. "We built a tremendous underlying broadband infrastructure that's capable of delivering and supporting all of these different applications," said Wolfe. Through a combination of fiber and DOCSIS 3.1, gigabit technology is already available to about 85 percent of homes in Phoenix. "Back then we worked with Phoenix to figure out how to best leverage what that network can provide," said Wolfe, which is when the ISP became aware of the US Ignite SGC program. The sponsorship opportunity was there, and Cox went for it. 

"Once you become a smart gigabit community, you have an obligation to develop a couple of apps every year," said Wolfe. These applications have to make a material difference in the quality of life for city residents, and cater to a community’s needs and challenges. In a unique move, Phoenix hosted hackathons to decide which app ideas would be best to fund and develop. Recent developments have included apps that help the city alert and remind its residents on days when the trash bins should be taken out, what can or can't be thrown into the trash bins, and when recycling day happens in the city. Wolfe stressed that as innocuous as an app like that may seem, the new technology has helped the city tremendously in tracking the activity that happens at the street level.

Wolfe also pointed out that each city is different in how they want to set up the smart gigabit community initiative. For example, Phoenix has brought together a consortium on economic development that includes multiple regional stakeholders. Cox works with this consortium to brainstorm regional solutions--whether that be improved traffic management, better energy management, or looking for public safety opportunities--that can address regionwide problems as opposed to just citywide issues.

San Diego and Las Vegas, which launched after Phoenix, are starting to figure out what their smart gigabit community governance structures look like and what sorts of solutions are needed to address their city's main issues, added Wolfe. [California and Las Vegas were also early gigabit speed markets for Cox.]      
"One of the things that we've learned as we've deepened our relationship with these cities is that they trust us as a provider and as a partner," said Wolfe. Cities are often pitched solutions to their smart community challenges. Cox, however, already has the underlying technology, allowing the ISP to partner with communities in various ways and to tackle each community's unique challenges. 

"We've made tremendous investments in these communities. Our success is tied to the success of the cities and towns where we operate. Our growth is tied to their growth," said Wolfe. "It's critically important to us that we partner with these cities to help them improve how effectively they operate, improve their ability to attract business, and improve the quality of life for the citizens who live there."