Bringing Intelligence to the Invisible Public Way

Executive Summary:

Broadband resources are essential to any contemporary community, cultural or commercial development.  They have the potential to dramatically enhance the viability of our public sector knowledge industry and creative economy institutions, and to support public policy regarding workforce & economic development

New fiber-optic resources are being installed throughout the USA at this moment.  However, current indications are that the systems, as currently planned, will not be competitive with the Next Generation Broadband capabilities being implemented elsewhere in the world.   There are also questions of how the roll-out will be managed, and whether its design and long term capabilities will serve the broadest public interest.

It is unfortunate that these broadband resources are often planned outside our comprehensive urban planning, architectural and development processes.  It certainly will be essential to have knowledgeable, skillful, integrated planning of these resources if their benefit is to be optimized.

These new systems are utilizing the public right of ways for their distribution network under public franchises.  As we build our next generation of infrastructure and public sector knowledge industry and creative economy institutions there is every reason, in every undertaking, to integrate broadband resources with new investment and development.

Every undertaking accomplished in the absence of such a policy is a waste of tremendous potential that might otherwise be realized with minor incremental cost.

This page will explain:

1.        How this opportunity can be realized

2.        The benefits of doing so

3.        The ingrained habits and policies that inhibit this accomplishment



Intelligent Public Way?? 

What depends on Broadband Resources?

The success of our local, state, federal and global Public Policies for Economic Development, Healthcare and Education is dependent on the availability of dependable, robust ubiquitous broadband resources.

Even so, it is a little known fact that Data, Telecommunication and Media Production Systems are not included in US Industry Standard Contracts for Planning, Architecture & Construction.  In fact, these industries anachronistically treat them as optional systems, outside the ken and expertise of citizens and the Design profession.  We’re still delegating this part of our lives to Ma Bell, but she doesn’t exist anymore.


These resources are necessary for success in crucial 21st century development strategies, such as:

1.      Tele-medicine

2.      Interactive, Multi-media Distance Learning

3.      Workforce development

4.      New Business Incubation

5.      Collaboration-at-a-Distance

6.      Virtual Presence / Teleconferencing / Tele-work

7.      Tele-community / Tele-family



Where It's Not, We Can't

Ignoring the design of these systems as part of the integrated development design process is short-sighted, and cannot continue.  These voice, video and data pipelines are the nervous systems by which the world is connected.


They are the medium that gives our citizens a voice, educates them and connects them, weaves them together and sends them forth, expands the realm of possibilities.


In terms of community, cultural & commercial development, these voice, video and data pipelines are the difference between success and failure – between the 21st century economy and the digital slums. 


To fail to provide our citizens with broadband resources is essentially to leave them without connections to contemporary development, and is to handicap them, and the economy that relies on them,  in a world that’s only getting more competitive.


In short – Where these resources are not, our people can not, our economy can not, and our nation can not.

We can do much better:

  • By integrating the design of this vital public sector nervous system with that of our communities,
  • By leveraging every infrastructure project in other rights-of-way so as to create a ubiquitous system of public wireways 
  • By creating public policy for their existence, shape & accessibility,
  • By creating common standards and expectations,
  • By pursuit of a public/private roll out of these systems in a dependable streamlined, well planned and capitalized context.


Leveraging Every Infrastructure & Public Sector Investment

The vast majority of municipal telecommunications infrastructure follows the routing of our transportation infrastructure rights-of-way.  This transportation infrastructure is set to grow tremendously in the coming years.


Every investment in roads, highways, and mass transit right-of-way has the capacity to help accommodate our much needed broadband distribution at the least possible cost while providing the highest reliability and service quality.  


The public sector already manages a vast network of knowledge industry and creative economy institutions – libraries, colleges, cultural districts, economic development zones, etc.


Both the private and the public sector will be investing financial and human capital in the development of our broadband resources.


There is every reason to leverage each investment in infrastructure and every improvement in public knowledge and creative economy institutions to further these resources.

Broadband Synergies with Public Sector Knowledge Industry & Creative Economy Engines

The public sector has tremendous sunk capital, as well as the hopes of our communities, invested in a network of Knowledge and Creative Economy institutions:  Libraries, Public Colleges & Universities, Cultural Districts, Community Colleges and Workforce & Economic Development Agencies.

Integrating Broadband Resources among these networks could unleash a huge upwelling of creative productivity - the stuff of our futures.

This surge of activity would be broadly distributed across the country, leveraging existing institutions and cultural networks.


Broadband Can Have a Different Geography

A fundamental re-framing of our broadband resources is overdue.  These resources make extensive use of public rights of way, public spectrum and public air space.  While less visible than roads, rail and air transport systems they are increasingly central to all forms of development.  Hence we might call them the Invisible Public Way.

This network is less constrained by geography than other means of transport.  It can become ubiquitous if it is designed to be capable of evolving that way. [the ubiquity argument]

A whole new generation of Broadband places wants to develop - sensory organs on the new broadband nervous systems, allowing communities to learn how to skillfully use these new resources, and supporting the development of their new enterprises. 


If we seek to enable all Americans to initiate new community, cultural and commercial activities, regardless of location, then ubiquitous access to substantial symmetrical information exchange must be a success criterion for our National Broadband Strategy.

Development of Broadband Resources Needs Transparency & Careful Design


The Design of the voice, video and data/telecom nervous system of U.S. cities is an anachronistic process needing reform at local, regional, state and federal levels.

It is outside of the current comprehensive planning process, and delegated to telecom & cable utilities that generally come into the process reluctantly and late, and have very different interests than the communities they serve.

The urban design community has no effective means to discuss or affect its planning in the context of community, cultural and commercial development planning.

The mapping by telecom/cable companies is occult, proprietary information.  The FCC’s mapping is known to be inaccurate and so general as to be useless.

Urban designers and regional planners don’t even think of this as an issue in their world.

The current utility monopoly structure for these services is crumbling but still dominant.  It limits competitive pressures that might cause innovation and world class systems to be developed.  This system occupies the space where broadband resource planning and deployment might happen, without filling the need in the public interest.

The current players in this arena have no incentive to provide services to areas needing community, cultural and commercial development.  They cherry pick the established need areas, redline extensively, and are fighting to continue providing service levels far below world standards.

All of this is inconsistent with the practices of other developed and developing nations around the world. 


Principal Author:            

                                    Bice C. Wilson, A.I.A.


                                            Meridian Design Associates, Architects, P.C.


Contributing Authors:

                                   Michael Max Knobbe

                                            Executive Director



                                    Dr. Norm Jacknis

                                            Director, IBSG Public Sector

                                            Cisco Systems, Inc.


                                    Chuck Sherwood

                                            Senior Associate

                                            TeleDimensions Inc.


                                    Michael Max Knobbe, 

                                              Executive Director


                                    Clayton Banks


                                              Ember Media

                                    Noah A. Wilson

                                            Student of Sustainable Economic Development

                                            Warren Wilson College