Progressive Democratic candidate for Mayor Jorge Elorza this week outlined a proposal to create a fiber optic network capable of delivering gigabit-speed internet (approximately 100 times faster than most current speeds) to the entire city.
This network, named the Providence Digital Rivers Project, is a tribute to the power source that drove the factories of the city’s first great economic boom; Elorza believes this network will be the power source for the innovative businesses that drive the emerging Knowledge Economy.
Two prominent local philanthropists have already expressed support for the plan, pledging seed funding to bring in expert advisers and hold discussions.
“[This is] wonderful, and crucial to leveraging the city to the forefront of developing employment. The idea of the future reflecting the glorious past for the city is impressive,” they said, adding, “Where we can help, we will.”
The project could provide both short- and long-term benefits. The city’s private, public, and nonprofit sectors could immediately see an increased capacity for innovation with access to an ultra high speed information network, but this will also provide the critical infrastructure for the economy of the future. “Right now this would be a bold step forward for Providence,” Elorza said. “But several cities of comparable size have done this, and it’s quickly becoming the basic standard for any city hoping to truly foster a strong Knowledge Economy. We’ve got to build for the future now.”
Elorza’s proposal looks to other models around the country, like Chattanooga, Tenn., which jump started its tech economy by developing its own municipal broadband network. Former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield described it as “like having the first city that discovered fire.”
“The lesson we can take from other cities that have done this is that no municipal government can achieve this on its own, but by establishing innovative public-private partnerships and seeking creative sources of funding, it can be done,” said Elorza. “As Mayor, I will see to it that Providence is the next city to do this.”
Elorza further points to Beacon 2.0 – a recently completed 450-mile fiber optic infrastructure that connects over 100 local institutions, including Brown, RISD, Rhode Island Hospital, the Rhode Island Department of Health, and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency – as evidence that the Providence Digital Rivers Project can succeed. Beacon 2.0 was financed through $21.7 million in federal grants and $10.7 million in private investment.
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