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Smart City Infrastructure: Strategic Steps for Building City Fiber Networks Smart City Infrastructure: Strategic Steps for Building City Fiber Networks

Smart City Infrastructure: Strategic Steps for Building City Fiber Networks

This article is part of Ice Miller’s Smarter Cities Guide, designed for municipal leaders, city administrators, urban planners, and economic developers. In this guide, your team will find opportunities to explore best practices and utilize checklists to develop the infrastructure, to understand the technology, and to implement the financial and legislative solutions needed to build a smarter city. Click here to learn more.


Widespread Internet of Things (“IoT”) deployment is not only imminent, but essential in order for communities to experience the full benefits of being a smart city. Forward-thinking municipalities have already realized the possibilities of deploying telecommunications infrastructure to enhance traffic control, public safety, utility monitoring, and countless other smart facilities for the public good.

Many communities are seeking to connect their local businesses and residents through fiber-optic telecommunications technology, and IoT networks often require a “backhaul” fiber network. This system could entail a fiber-optic line that reaches a single employer or major development, or could be a fiber ring that circles an entire city. Fiber is attractive due to being “future-proof,” meaning the available bandwidth can be increased without having to change the infrastructure, unlike other modes to deliver broadband such as cable or digital subscriber line (“DSL”).


Fiber networks not only bring technological opportunity to a community, but economic opportunity as well. U.S. cities with gigabit fiber connections report 1.1% higher per-capita gross domestic product (“GDP”), [1] which equates to approximately $1.4 billion in additional GDP, [2] than cities without gigabit speeds.

With a strong fiber network in place, a municipality could also attract and retain a talented workforce through better connections to resources, amenities and commerce. For example, smart parking systems can reduce parking congestion by 22 percent, and can reduce total traffic volume by 8 percent, according to IBM. To gather the data needed to make an impact on traffic and congestion in real time, municipalities will need to implement the fastest possible network connections.

However, challenges remain as municipalities are naturally protective of their right-of-way (“ROW”) and the aesthetics of their communities. As a result, communities may resist the deployment of certain infrastructure despite the need for modern communications for residents and businesses. In addition, funding a fiber build-out can be cost- prohibitive.


Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) unanimously voted to open high-band spectrum for 5th generation (“5G”) wireless expansion. This action is projected to greatly impact connected devices and IoT. Further, pervasive availability of 5G mobile connectivity is predicated on the availability of fiber to cellular sites. While we are still several years from true 5G deployment, several of the large incumbent providers are already testing 5G wireless networks in the field. Municipalities that plan accordingly can be at the forefront of this revolution.


Strategic planning is key to understanding the infrastructure needs in a municipality. Broadband providers are often willing to use existing infrastructure as opposed to constructing new; however, in order to do so there needs to be a repository of existing assets, including fiber. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach and government should not limit its thinking as to what constitutes an IT infrastructure asset.

Step #1

Develop an Expert Network
Many communities lack the local expertise to deploy a fiber network without the assistance of outside consultants such as design engineers, financial advisors, legal counsel, planners, and others. A trusted network of experts can help your team navigate each subsequent step in the process of developing a best-in-class fiber network.

Step #2

Create an Inventory of Assets
The next step is to inventory the community-owned assets, as well as other privately owned assets that may be available for use with local network deployment. In addition, a municipality should analyze its existing right-of-way provisions (or consider implementing a ROW policy if one is not currently in place).

Step #3

Determine Network Ownership
Once the requisite assets are identified, communities have an option to create a locally owned, municipal network; work with private telecommunications providers for expansion; or use a combination public-private partnership ("P3") approach. Regardless of the approach selected, opportunities may also exist to connect to an existing state or university-owned telecommunications network.

Step #4

Conduct a Cost-Benefit Analysis and Seek Funding
Since cost is a primary deterrent for fiber builds. A community should understand what it currently spends on telecommunications services, its projected broadband needs, how those will augment over the coming years, and what a potential fiber project could cost. Local, state, and federal funding programs are often available for broadband deployment. For example, BroadbandUSA, an office within the National Telecommunication and Information Administration ("NTIA"), compiled a “Guide to Federal Funding of Broadband Projects” in 2015.[3]

Smart cities will need strong, local fiber networks in place to reliably connect citizens with resources, amenities, and commerce. While the size and scope of a fiber network project can seem daunting, communities will reap the rewards of these projects for years to come.

For more information on the IoT, contact a member of our Internet of Things Industry Group.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader’s specific circumstances.

[1] Brian Fung, Study: Cities with super fast Internet speeds are more productive, The Washington Post, September 2014, the-switch/wp/2014/09/18/study-cities-with-super-fast- internet-speeds-are-more-productive/

[2] Sean Buckley, 1 Gbps-enabled communities have higher GDP, says FTTH Council study, FierceTelecom, Sept. 18, 2014, gbps-enabled-communities-have-higher-gdp-says- ftth-council-study/2014-09-18?utm_medium=nl&utm_ source=internal

[3] Broadband USA: Guide to Federal Funding of Broadband Projects, September 2015, http://www2.ntia.

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