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Pondering the Future Westlake Village

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Note: This is not a normal Westlake Revelations article. It's an idea for you think about.
You should consider this an "editorial" from Westlake Revelations' founder/editor, Neil Ticktin.

As we close up this year, and ponder the future, it may also be a fitting time to think about what Westlake Village can do as a city. No doubt, you've heard about the satellite TV provider rate increases coming, or experienced poor service from your cable provider, or even seen the inherent limits of technology from phone providers. Those are yesterdays and today's problems, but they don't even come close to allowing us to think about the future.

Westlake Village has some serious and unusual limitations when it comes to technology, cable, and telephone. These are complex, but mostly, these come from geography: proximity to the county line, and a narrow developed corridor between the two mountain ranges to the North and South. They also, however, come from the fact that Westlake Village is a tiny city. Over the past two decades, the City Council has tried a couple of different approaches to dealing with providers for cable and telephone -- essentially, these are regulation and deregulation. But neither can work, as we've seen -- there has to be something in between. Some cities have looked to yesterday's technology, and combined existing copper wiring for the 'last mile' with fiber. Or, taken the route of WiFi everywhere -- even though the technology changes so quickly, it's hard to pin down and has significant limitations. Others have tried grandiose plans that required too many to be involved.

40+ years ago, Westlake Village was a leader in creating a planned community -- one that has been modeled throughout the country. Today, our City thrives both economically, and in services provided... except deeply lacks in one area: technology infrastructure. This infrastructure is the foundation for good Internet connectivity, mobile phone access, WiFi, medical applications, etc... Compared to other cities, our lack of options is even embarrassing. While most Westlake Village residents have learned to cope with the frustrations and limitations, many have yet to see how limiting this will actually become with time. Is there a better way?

What if the City of Westlake Village could put in place the technology infrastructure? One that Internet, media, and content providers would compete for our business because they could focus on what they do best... not on what's most cost effective for them? Is it possible to do, without breaking the bank? Yes, I think so -- but to do so, our city would want to learn the lessons of the past.

The key for success is to identify the minimal amount necessary for the City to do, and to enable the private sector to realistically compete for our business.

For Westlake Village to do this, and leap forward, it needs to leap forward in its thinking -- and look at the future, not just play catch up. And, that likely means getting fiber optic connectivity to every home, business and service provider within our city. This does not mean trying to retrofit old technologies like cable, or beefing up copper wiring services, but fiber... real fiber... all the way to the home.

How could this work?

Westlake Village could lay fiber everywhere, tying it into one central location where providers could easily access and compete for our business. Instead of needing to own the cable all the way to your house, any media provider could run to this central facility and be able to deliver TV and movies, and any kind of content. Same with Internet providers, phone providers, and down the road new technologies -- like medical providers, security, and more.

Where would a "head end" like this be located? The City already owns properties that suit this idea -- there's an acre near City Hall on Agoura, or the City could even look to acquire property such as the old Westlake hospital site. A head end facility would essentially have a connection to every property in the City, where providers could just "patch in" whatever services they want to provide. For those of you more technical, think of it as a big "patch panel" where providers would focus on bringing service to the area simply by getting service to this building.

What would this cost? There's the good news. A facility and fiber infrastructure could easily be amortized over 30 years. The easiest way to pay for it? Through fees of use for Internet connectivity, TV/media, and more. This should be an easy concept for providers to adopt: they would no longer would need to build nor maintain an enormous infrastructure. There may even be additional revenue sources from organizations like the electric and water providers

Or, if the City wanted to just do it -- it could just build a "dark fiber" network (fiber that's installed, but not used -- hence "dark") that it could rent out as needed. It should easily be within the City's financial ability to build this out if amortized over the next few decades as is commonly done.

In either case, the city would own its future, remove the barriers to entry, and customers would be the beneficiaries both with better services and ultimately, lower costs.

What would it to do for local Property Values?

Just in the way that people think about ease to get on the freeway, or cell phone coverage when buying a home, or selecting office space, truly high speed Internet is incredibly desirable as well. Would home values increase over neighboring cities? There's a good chance. The question is how much. 1%? 5%? Certainly, in an apples-to-apples scenario, the house in an area with inexpensive gigabit connectivity would be more desirable to many people, than one that's not. It's probably not an amount of value that the City should focus on, but it's a nice added benefit that is likely to benefit City revenues, homeowner values, and more.

What would the future look like?

The reality is we don't know -- because until we have it, we won't be able to think of new ways to use it. Think about it: most people couldn't envision how they'd use an iPhone prior to it being out there for a while. That said, many residents are already limited or are frustrated with their TV, phone and Internet providers. One thing is for sure; connectivity has become an absolute necessity for normal lifestyle function, and is certain to become far more important in the future. But, we can already see real life examples of what good connectivity could bring, including:

• Entertainment: You know how right now it's hard to watch a movie on Netflix because it starts and stops? No longer. Imagine being able to download a full-length high-definition movie in a matter of seconds. Gone would be poor choices of providers, and their ridiculous limitations -- instead, you'd be able to select providers because it would be cost effective for them to service much smaller customer bases (they only have to get their services to the head end).

* Backups: Today, many people take tons of pictures -- and movies. But, with very slow upload speeds, it's difficult to share, or even backup properly. It's a pain point as a result. Gigabit connectivity solves this easily.

* Medical: Imagine seeing your doctor remotely via a high-speed Internet connection, or being able to stay at home rather than in a hospital because you can be monitored remotely with truly high bandwidth applications.

* Schools: Across the country, schools and universities are experimenting with remote and networked learning -- and it's being adopted at an astounding rate. With real bandwidth, you could benefit from education based on choosing the best place to learn rather than the closest. And with the advent of 3D broadcasting, imagine if students could inspect a visualization of the planets orbiting the sun in the solar system.

* Telecommuting: Imagine being able to work from your home as well as you can in your office, with vastly better connectivity. Limitations for those whose business requires movement of tremendous data (e.g., entertainment, media) wouldn't have to drive to work everyday (a direction many industries are moving toward for their employees). Reliable data interactions, private networks, server access and so much more for those that could help Westlake Village residents telecommute more effectively, and more often.

* WiFi and Mobile Phones: With a City wide gigabit fiber network, it would be relatively easy to add access everywhere for WiFi and Mobile Phone access.

Like the idea? Hate the idea?

As a technologist who deals with both strategy and educating those in the industry, I not only face these challenges every day, but I have to speak and write about them regularly. In the case of Westlake Village, this proposed solution is a concept that I've been thinking about and shaping for many years.

If you like the idea? Let the City know. If you don't, then let them know that too! It's your city; let your opinion be known.

You can contact City staff at:
http://www.wlv.org/index.aspx?NID=274

Or let the City Council members know your thoughts! Either way, feel free to cc me.

Just a thought...

Have a very happy new year.
Neil