Next Century Cities Panel
Panel of Innovation Officers and Experts. From left to right: Chris Mitchell, Next Century Cities (moderator); Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Boston, MA; Ashley Hand, Kansas City, MO; Jory Wolf, Santa Monica, CA; Gail Roper, Raleigh, NC; Mary Beth Henry, Portland, OR; Terry Huval, Lafayette, LA (photo courtesy of the City of Santa Monica)

Officials from more than two dozen cities across the country gathered at Cross Campus in Santa Monica Monday morning for the launch of Next Century Cities, an initiative designed to help municipalities develop locally-controlled state-of-the-art Internet infrastructure.

Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor was joined by representatives from the other 31 member cities, including Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and Palo Alto, California to kick off the bipartisan, city-to-city initiative dedicated to ensuring the availability of next-generation broadband Internet for all communities.

Santa Monica was one of the original half-dozen cities to come up with the Next Century Cities guidelines in part because it has been a leader in municipal high-speed Internet for more than a decade now, said Jory Wolf, the City’s chief information officer.

“Santa Monica is proud to be one of the inaugural municipalities to join Next Century Cities,” said Wolf. “As the first city in the United States to have a 100 gigabit network, our leadership role makes being a part of this initiative a logical choice. Through this collaborative network of cities we are able to share accomplishments, as well as learn from each other to stimulate innovation.”

Through the Next Century Cities initiative, Santa Monica and the other founding cities hope to help local municipalities to develop their own broadband networks.

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Santa Monica decided in the late 1990s to begin installing its own broadband network throughout the city, originally for use by the City and School District. Today, approximately 130 businesses, including hotels, tech startups, and entertainment companies, use the City’s fiber-optic cables, in part because Santa Monica can offer competitive pricing compared to national broadband providers.

Now, the City is also looking at the possibility of expanding its broadband network availability to residences.

“Everybody recognizes we have been a leader in this area for quite a while,” Wolf said. “Santa Monica is able to control its own destiny.” When it comes to Internet access, that is especially true since municipalities can maintain the principles of “net neutrality,” even if federal regulators allow private providers to charge higher rates for faster Internet access.

In an article on April 29, following the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to move dismantle net neutrality, the Lookout News wrote: “[O]fficials say the end of net neutrality — the principle that all Internet content should be treated equally — has not come to Santa Monica, where the businesses — and soon residents — have the option to eschew major Internet providers such as Time Warner Cable and Verizon, and instead tap into a City-owned network of fiber-optic cables.”

The autonomy that comes with municipal control of broadband networks is just one of many perks.

“Across the country, we’re seeing cities hungry to deploy high-speed Internet to transform communities and connect residents to better jobs, better health care, and better education for their children,” Executive Director of Next Century Cities Deb Socia said in an official statement Thursday.

“Santa Monica is joining with other leading cities across the country to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. Next Century Cities is committed to celebrating these successes, demonstrating their value, and helping other cities to realize the full power of truly high-speed, affordable, and accessible broadband,” she said.