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Cities find 'The plan's the thing'

Tue, 12/31/1996 - 7:00pm
Tom Robinson
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When you think about it, reflection, perspective and proper planning are key factors in many aspects of our lives. This is true in many facets of telecommunications, whether it's planning for product roll-outs, setting the framework for the introduction of new services, overhauling existing systems to enhance connectivity and implement new applications or, from a local government's perspective, to plan for handling infrastructure growth, development and use.

The master plan

In fact, from coast-to-coast, many local governments are in the midst of developing master telecommunications plans similar in concept to traditional land-use plans, public utility infrastructure development plans and other parts of overall comprehensive planning.

On a large scale, these plans are integral to assisting local governments in responding to current and future community telecom needs, an influx of wireless and wireline providers competing to satisfy a growing market demand for new and enhanced services, and a changing regulatory climate that's become an outgrowth of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 ("1996 Act"), new FCC rules and legislative and regulatory initiatives at the state level. Regarding their own use of telecommunications, master plans also envision and chart a course that allows local governments to take advantage of advances in technology to enhance government operations and services to citizens. A number of master telecommunications plans are now also done on a regional basis. Local governments are working in conjunction with one another through intergovernmental commissions and consortia because the telecommunications challenges that they face often overlap individual jurisdictional boundaries (such as the seemingly ever-increasing regionalization of cable TV networks where one system may encompass numerous franchise areas).

On a finite scale, telecommunications planning enables local governments to accomplish a number of short- and long-range objectives, including:

  • Updating and projection of public right-of-way (PROW) management requirements to facilitate uniform application.
  • Updating and projecting local zoning requirements to facilitate the same treatment for functionally equivalent services.
  • Updating fee mechanisms to ensure public cost recovery and fair and reasonable compensation for PROW use.
  • Meeting the need for new or expanded public institutional network services, including establishing the feasibility of building/maintaining/providing municipally-owned telecommunications infrastructure.

Often, the master telecommunications plan will be an outgrowth of telecommunications policy directions which have been previously adopted by a local government after performance of an in-depth internal and external community-wide telecommunications needs assessment.

The City of Milpitas, Calif., ("city") provides a good example of the benefits that can be derived from telecom planning. The city has been involved in telecommunications policy and plan development and implementation for more than two years now, beginning well before the passage of the 1996 Act. As part of this process, the city, in conjunction with Media Connections Group, developed a master telecommunications plan that focused on internal operations and systems, external infrastructure needs and right-of-way management mechanisms.

At this point, the city is involved in a number of initiatives to implement the plan, including procurement of hardware to standardize its computer systems; procurement of computer-aided design (CAD) materials to streamline its permitting process and allow remote on-line access to permitting functions, including status checks of development applications; and procurement of software for police and fire information systems as well as city-wide e-mail applications.

Regarding external infrastructure development, the city has embarked on a project to obtain fiber optics infrastructure between facilities by both working with private providers and installing additional wiring concurrently with other planned public works projects. For example, as part of the conditions of a cable system transfer agreement, TCI will provide fiber optic cabling and conduit infrastructure for the city between its main administrative offices at City Hall and its remote facility that houses public safety and public works. The cable company will also provide infrastructure related to the city's fire training video network. It is notable that there is synergy between the city's need for infrastructure and TCI's, in that some of the routing used will facilitate both city applications and future residential service for TCI.

Regarding synergistic city initiatives, fiber infrastructure needed to implement the applications envisioned in the plan will be installed during already-planned public works projects, such as a soon-to-be enhanced traffic signal control synchronization system.

Like all good plans and policies, and considering today's rapidly changing telecommunications environment, Milpitas' and other cities' master telecommunications plans incorporate mechanisms to respond to and take advantage of changing conditions, especially where synergies like those noted above exist. Which reminds me, such a dynamic refocusing can also benefit our personal plans for 1997. For example, next to my objective of "enhancing our client base," I'm thinking of penciling in "in golf-friendly climates." Ah, to quote a little fractured Shakespeare, "All the world's a stage, and we are just planners upon it."

Contact Tom Robinson at: tomgrob@rivoakscom.com

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