The Urgency of Metropolitan Broadband Strategies

In the new global economy, metropolitan regions are the new centers of commerce.

Now more than ever, cities and counties within regions must work together to do joint governmental planning and development, and provide not only police, fire and safety services but other land use, transportation and telecommunications systems as well.

Most people already live in one jurisdiction, work in other, and play or dine in a third. They have no idea that the cost to them is enormous because of the duplication and waste of often so many cities in the region. Moreover, they do not realize that the new creative economy demands consolidation to save money, and to reposition itself in the new global economy.

It is cheaper, sure, but the real reasons are to stimulate economic prosperity. By reorganizing, as syndicated columnist Neil Peirce has pointed out, these new "city-states" as he calls them, "have a shared identification, function as a single zone for trade commerce and communication."

Take broadband, or high speed Internet service, for example.

It's as important as waterways, railways and highways were in an earlier era. Unfortunately, this belief is not widely held. From a policy standpoint, clearly, at the federal, state and local level, we have lost our way, much to our peril.

However, most cities are intimidated by the cable or the telephone company's presence and hesitate to assume a lead role in creating a citywide or region-wide infrastructure plan. Whether in cooperation with the existing provider or separately, the region needs to take the lead in providing the information infrastructures... It is something every man and woman and child depends on to succeed in the new economy. Thus, cities should intercede to be sure the new infrastructures are there, affordable and accessible by everyone, not just the rich or those living in urban areas.

The cities within a region, the county, federal and state government agencies in the area, and for that matter all schools and hospitals, and non-profit agencies can build the new information infrastructures needed and offer vital public services.

The new global knowledge economy, not to mention our current fiscal crisis, demands that government rethink how to organize itself to be most competitive. That might mean cutting out a city council or two or other top administrative posts in the name of efficiency. At minimum, it means cities within a region (including the counties) ought to be jointly pursuing opportunities to operate services together.

According to Bruce Katz, a founding director of the Metropolitan Economy Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., "There is a fundamental disconnect between how we live and work in large portions all over America and how we govern."

"The mismatch between governments and the economy undermines the competitiveness of places by raising the costs of doing business, exacerbating strong development trends, squandering urban assets and deepening racial and class separation. "The Obama Administration hopes to reverse decades of neglect of our cities by stimulating economic prosperity in 'metropolitan regions' where, according to Brookings, the top 100 metropolitan areas covers about two thirds of the nation's population and an even larger share of the nation's gross domestic product.

It is these regional economies that foster quality places, vibrant downtowns, attractive town centers and historic, older suburbs that feed the development and acquisition of human capital, financial capital and contribute to resource efficient, sustainable growth.
Not merging municipalities or at least jointly providing basic services, starting with broadband, puts the prowess of a region at risk.