Update: Traverse City, Michigan, took home the prize as 2017 #StrongestTown. Congrats to Traverse City!
Keeping with the spirit of March Madness, the nonprofit StrongTowns ran the second annual #StrongestTown contest based on the nonprofit’s Strength Test and Principles. Of the 16 communities that participated, almost a third have been featured on MuniNetworks.org for their Internet infrastructure plans: Ellsworth, Maine; Lafayette, Louisiana; Traverse City, Michigan; and Valparaiso, Indiana.
These five communities have battled their way forward against steep competition. Through articles and podcasts on Strong Towns, they tried to showcase how their residents are active in their communities and committed to change at the local level. All five overcame the initial rounds, and Traverse, City, Michigan made it to the final round against the Canadian city of Guelph. The winner will be announced Monday, March 27th on the contest page.
Community Networks Support Vibrant Towns
It comes as no surprise to us that these communities would be in the running for #StrongestTown. Building a community network takes public support and a realistic look at financials. Publicly owned networks encourage job creation, improve healthcare, and connect low-income residents. The towns that made the cut took different approaches to better connectivity.
Lafayette, Louisiana’s fiber network follows a classic model: it’s a city-run utility serving both homes and businesses. The city incrementally built the network, funding a new section of the network with revenues from already connected homes and businesses. The ubiquitous connectivity attracted many new jobs and businesses to the Silicon Bayou.
Taking a different tact, Ellsworth, Maine, created an open access network, enabling multiple providers to compete for subscribers. Valparaiso, Indiana, invested in a dark fiber network to allow businesses and providers to lease what they need. And of course, Traverse City, Michigan, is in the midst of deciding how best to use its fiber backbone - with many options still on the table.
Regardless of which city takes home the title of 2017 #StrongestTown goes to, at the end of the day what really matters is community. Just like transit infrastructure and green spaces, these networks improve quality of life for residents and make these towns good places to live, work, and play.