“We had no belief we could become a tech city,” said Mayor Andy
Berke, describing the mindset that ran counter to what actually
happened to Chattanooga.
Now, with its city-wide fiber network approaching speeds of up to 10
gigs, an exploding app economy, and skyrocketing GDP, it’s hard for
many residents to recall when Chattanooga was a sleepy southern city.
Could the same fate be in store for Baton Rouge? It seems that now is
the age of the urban underdog, where cities like Baltimore, Oklahoma
City, and Richmond are catapulting ahead and positioning themselves as
techie alternatives to the hyper-expensive coastal environments.
If Baton Rouge were to become the next Chattanooga, it would be due
to a combined effort of government, private businesses, and the
community at large. Here are our reflections of where we are as a city
and how EATEL Business can contribute to this collective progress.
Baton Rouge’s Smart City Score Card
Before we can paint a picture of where wewant to go as a city, it
would be helpful to look at where we are. In general, there are four
common characteristics of Smart Cities:
- Smart city technology collects and analyzes lots of data.
- Smart city culture is entrepreneurial and innovation-focused.
- Smart city government is engaged and forward-thinking.
- Smart city communications infrastructure can support
high-speed internet and powerful business technology.
In recent years, news media lists and scorecards have not always been
kind to this city. But as far as Smart City progress goes, there’s
lots to be optimistic about.
1. Data Collection and Analysis
How It’s Important: Every moving part in a city represents a
statistical opportunity for improvement: traffic on highways,
structural anomalies in pipes and bridges, and pedestrian traffic data
can all be captured and analyzed. Smart City data projects can take
the form of data harvesting by sensors and other Internet-of-Things
devices, or simply a smarter utilization of existing data stores.
Our Score: Baton Rouge is already on decent footing with data
innovation, as can be seen (with) the city-parish’s award-winning
web portal Open Data BR. The data
democratization project puts information in the hands of developers,
analysts, and journalists who can use it to address problems faced by
the city. Recently, the city took the data project a step forward with
BR, a “checkbook-level” accounting of the city’s expenditures.
How It’s Important: In Smart Cities, there’s a never-ending
party for entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic development.
Support circles exist to connect innovators with the resources and
networks that can help them grow, and successful entrepreneurs achieve
celebrity status and notoriety.
Our Score: Depending on what professional circles you run in,
you may have noticed that Baton Rouge is thriving. The yearly
culmination of this is the
Baton Rouge Entrepreneur’s Week, which for several years has
reported increased levels of attendance. Spurred by the high-profile
successes of techy companies like Waitr and Presonus and nurtured by
entrepreneurial non-profits like
Louisiana Technology Park, the culture of Baton Rouge is
welcoming, especially for companies who want to be a big, locally
famous fish in a medium-sized pond.
How It’s Important: Often, the role of government in Smart City
creation comes down to the three T’s: technology, talent, and trade.
But at the core of aspects is top down municipal buy-in. Does the
local government understand technology and risk? Is riding the waves
of change a priority? Do the local leaders even understand the change
Our Score: The government appears to be fully engaged in Smart
City since at least 2016, when the Metropolitan Council unanimously
adopted a resolution establishing the Smart City
Committee consisting of representatives from a large cross-section
of the community. One major win of the committee came in 2017, when
the National Science Foundation granted LSU researchers money to work
with City-Parish agencies, using the Smart City Committee to
facilitate such collaboration.
4. Communications Infrastructure
How It’s Important: High-speed internet access: the lifeblood
of technological progress. Affordable, fast internet grows business,
attracts tech companies from high-cost-of-operating areas, and
supports new technologies. That’s why the most commonly shared trait
of mid-size tech cities is fiber internet.
Our Score: Of the four Smart City pillars, communications is
where Baton Rouge could improve the most. There are still too few
businesses that have access to Gig speed internet, and those networks
that can support this bandwidth still use last-generation copper
cabling or almost-but-not-quite fiber connections.
Fiber Internet: The Common Thread of Smart Cities
EATEL Business can’t obviously deliver a complete Smart City on our
own, but at least we can do our part. Here is an overview of our plan
Priority 1: Grow a wide area fiber network in Baton Rouge.
We’re currently growing our fiber internet footprint in Baton
Rouge using a business-first strategy among dense commercial
corridors. We’ve already established a fiber presence in several
areas of high business concentration, and will grow these
organically. In time, a wide network of fiber optic cable will
create a high-speed corridor not only within the city, but also a
fiber super highway that will create synergy with our tech city
neighbors in adjacent states.
Priority 2: Support causes and organizations who champion
innovation. We will partner with organizations that support
the four pillars of Smart Cities mentioned above. Sponsorships,
grants, and community involvement efforts will be focused on
economic development activity and growing a smarter Baton Rouge.
This includes economic development agencies, schools, business
incubators, and other tech-related causes.
Priority 3: Help make government agencies models of technology
excellence. Government is at the heart of Smart City
development, and we will support them when we can. Already, EATEL
has established a fiber network empowering critical State agencies
with fast internet, disaster recovery capabilities, and
next-generation cybersecurity, and we intend to replicate this
success with other government bodies.
Priority 4: Exemplify the power of LOCAL. In most cases of
Smart City emergence, the local businesses lead the charge, NOT the
out-of-state mega corporations. Baton Rouge will be no exception. In
the absence of large corporate giants, homegrown companies will
cobble resources together with philanthropists and government
agencies to achieve progress.
There’s lots of promise of a Smart City future for Baton Rouge and
community leaders have already taken encouraging steps toward
transformation. These steps should be backed up by tangible business
assets supported by local companies.
There are many parts to the puzzle, Baton Rouge will need at least a
strong communications infrastructure if it wants a level playing field
with other business destinations. EATEL Business will work diligently
with the community to establish this network while collaborating with
local partners to establish a Smart City foundation.