'Smart Cities' Meet 'Anchor Institutions': The Case of Broadband and the Public Library
30 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2014 Last revised: 10 Mar 2015
Date Written: August 1, 2014
The concepts “smart city” and “anchor institution” – both popular in policy circles – intersect at broadband infrastructure in ways that highlight the importance of civil society institutions to digital networks. This essay shows, through the example of public libraries, how anchor institutions can extend connectivity and the fruits of robust broadband. More broadly, there are lessons here about the meaning of “public-private partnerships,” often at the heart of smart city plans, and the virtues of strengthening the public side of that relationship.
Buzz around smart cities has been building as policymakers seek to harness information technology to improve the delivery of city services and the welfare of urban residents. Whether the focus is on the Internet of Things or the delivery of educational services, strong telecommunications infrastructure is a necessary component. Enter the concept of “anchor institution” (e.g., university, library, hospital). It was not until 2009 that the term made its first appearance in United States law, and this was in the context of broadband policy. The public policy goals that anchor institutions are supposed to advance in the broadband context almost perfectly coincide with smart city goals: networking individuals and entities in ways that optimize the flow of information for social and economic advancement.
The last few years have shown that the achievement of smart city and broadband policy goals in ways that are inclusive, democratic, and otherwise in the public interest will require the meaningful involvement of civil society institutions, like the public library. These institutions will have to share in, and contribute to, the intelligence that connectivity enables. The successes and failures thus far of broadband policy to engage anchor institutions may presage other smart city threats and promises. This essay explores these issues in four parts. Part I describes the smart city and anchor institution concepts. Part II identifies broadband policy goals and market gaps in their fulfillment. Part III shows how anchor institutions and public libraries in particular are important partners in reaching broadband infrastructure goals. Part IV then concludes with some observations for smart city initiatives in general.
Keywords: smart cities, anchor institutions, Internet of Things, IoT, broadband policy, digital inclusion, informational justice, libraries, broadband adoption
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