Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 278

This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 278. Christopher Mitchell interviews Dublin, Ohio's City Manager Dana McDaniel to lear more about DubLink and intelligent communities. Listen to this episode here.

Dana McDaniel: Intelligent communities are born out of crisis typically or opportunity our crisis was really born more out of the opportunity side. But it was still a crisis.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 278 of the community broadband pit's podcast from the Institute for local self-reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzales. Christopher recently spoke at an event in Dublin, Ohio, hosted by the Global Institute for the Study of the intelligent community. While he was there he spoke with Dublin City Manager Dana McDaniel about the event and, of course, the community's municipal fiber network that has spurred economic development and provided so many other benefits. During their conversation they discussed the institute's work and their discoveries. Now here's Christopher and Dana McDaniel.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the community broadband bid's podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for local self-reliance and I'm on site in Dublin Ohio talking with Dana McDaniel city manager of Dublin Ohio and host of The Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community. Welcome to the show.

Dana McDaniel: Well thanks Chris thanks for having me and thanks for being with us.

Christopher Mitchell: It's nice to do the interview after my presentation after I have seen a bit since I have a better sense of what's going on here and it's pretty impressive. Well thanks. Where are we Where's Dublin for people who have never been here and what's it like.

Dana McDaniel: OK well Dublin Ohio is a suburb of Columbus and I think most people probably know Columbus is central to the state of Ohio. And of course--

Christopher Mitchell: Both figuratively and physically

Dana McDaniel: As you go and yeah in a lot of ways that's very true. Yes so we're a suburb of Columbus on the northwest side. We have a population of about 47,000 people are daytime population is closer to 70,000. We have a lot of businesses we have nearly 4,000 businesses in our community and several which are corporate headquarter types so. So we import more jobs than we export which is a good thing.

Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely. It seems like a lot of growing industries here we're here at Ohio University which is not the Ohio State University for people who might be confused but at Ohio University where there's a lot of thinking about the future it looks like.

Dana McDaniel: Right, well we're fortunate to have this Ohio University, a satellite campus. The main campus is in Athens, Ohio, and we're sitting on the Ohio University campus. But yes we are pretty close as well to the the Ohio State University, and it's as you know it's a very large universe you have a great partnership with them as well. So Ohio University is establishing a satellite campus here and has plans for growth.

Christopher Mitchell: So well we're going to talk about DubLink in a second which is the wonderful underground conduit system that you've developed over many years.

Christopher Mitchell: But I wanted to first get a better sense of what -- what's an intelligent community? And what's the institute doing?

Dana McDaniel: Right, so the intelligent community as part of the Intelligent Community Forum which was founded by three members. It is a New York City think tank is it is a way to look at it but they're globally connected.

Dana McDaniel: They have a movement which I which is very much a global movement. It's -- it's really at its core our principles of what they and the folks who participate with them consider to comprise an intelligent community and there are certain indicators that they use as benchmarks so one is broadband meaning, you know, what is the broadband infrastructure in your community the knowledge workforce that leverages off of that. What innovation do you bring to bear relative to those and participate in the global economy, the global broadband economy, and then the others indicators would include digital equity. And that is to what extent can everyone in your community access and participate in this broadband economy and then sustainability, meaning, how is our world going to absorb the waste that we generate? and strike that balance and then the last is advocacy and that is how do you as a community share your story.

Dana McDaniel: And I think the key there is how do you share it so that you're helping others. But equally you're learning from those people that you're trying to help as well and that's that's a lot of what this institute is about. There were two institutes. Initially one out of Mississippi State Cooperative Extension Service that had a real focus on the rural imperative and how broadband affects rural communities. And then another one that was started in Ohio at a Walsh University in northeast Ohio and then that has relocated to Dublin. And we've been fortunate to pick up on all the good work that Walsh did and in trying to carry that forward. The institute really is -- we are a host. It's not a brick and mortar thing. It's really a dialogue and a collaboration. And how do we bring communities together to talk about this thing of -- this notion of the Intelligent community and the vision of the Institute which was actually created by all of its participating members is toward an intelligent Ohio.

Dana McDaniel: So how can we as a state, and with the regions within the state become more intelligent in this concept of the intelligent community.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that we are talking about this morning here at this this gathering that you're having today was how you've traveled all over the state and are working with communities all over the state and so we're a big fan of that at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance as local organizing and trying to like help these different communities that are in proximity to each other organized locally along similar lines. Tell us a little bit about that.

Speaker 8: Yeah I think Chris you know in listening to your presentation and getting to know you this morning a lot better I think our missions are very aligned. You know I think we are about trying to help local communities to better their positioning within the world, you know, globally, by leveraging this thing of broadband. Whether that's that physical infrastructure of broadband or how you leverages your access to it but you get to make sure you have access to it right which is certainly a great mission that you all have. And to your to your question about kind of getting this word out around Ohio we have an institute taken the show on the road, we call it, so it's been the ICF road show the institute road show to the five regions of the state central Ohio and of course north as you can imagine north northwest northeast south east southwest.

Speaker 8: And we we went around and talked about the intelligent community movement and what that meant. Again it's not about promoting the city of Dublin at all. It's about the movement. And I think we we really we had good attendance at all those and a lot of cities, even providers -- the industry providers, attended wanting to know what that was about. And I had great dialogue and all those different regions and then we have circled back to the North West region and the southeast region. And I think there's great momentum and if you think about Ohio and the southeast region it is more rural.

Dana McDaniel: Northwest can be a little bit more rural although although there are certainly some some great cities in both those regions but that rural concept seems to play there.

Speaker 8: And how do we help help with that. So that's been a big focus Northeast Ohio is much more dense population wise and they're doing a lot of innovative things Same with Southwest Ohio's more dense. And of course central Ohio is actually the more populated region within the state. So I think our twist has become more rural with this and trying to help other cities and communities as best we can. Not that we have the answers. Again this is about us learning as much -- the things that we brought back to Dublin in just hearing and talking as it has been phenomenal for us.

Speaker 9: Yeah I definitely hear you on that. I mean are you just giving this presentation today that I give I learned a lot in the Q&A and also just as I was thinking about things the audience might find interesting about ability to talk and listen I think is something more people should think actively about. But let me ask you one of the things I feel like an intelligent community exists in juxtaposition to might be a smart community. And often I think we think about smart communities as the largest cities and you're talking about intelligent smaller communities. So tell me a little bit more about what's intelligent and also how that may apply to smaller cities as opposed to just the largest ones that are managing traffic congestion and things like that.

Dana McDaniel: You know you have this big movement now in smart cities and that's a huge thing here in Ohio and especially in central Ohio with some of the grant money that's come down from from U.S. Department Transportation on Smart Cities initiatives. But but not to confuse the two. The the intelligent community really differentiates between the two. In fact, the intelligent community forum and movement really started with smart cities back in the 90s. I believe it was with that vernacular and use. But the idea is smart cities initiatives help cities to work more efficiently whereas intelligent communities help communities to be better communities overall -- is more comprehensive. So I love the question about the small cities because I use this like when I talk about the intelligent community I have a slide and it shows Mitchell, South Dakota, and I can't remember their population.

Dana McDaniel: It's like less than 20,000 home of the Corn Palace. I see and every time I bring this up and I have a picture of the Corn Palace I ask people how many people been in the Corn Palace. Every time I've done this presentation someone in the room was raised their hand which I think is just fascinating and then -- And then I have a picture of Taipei City, Taiwan, which has a population of six million. Both these cities were labeled as top seven communities in the world at the same time. Right. So so what are their stories. Well you know you can imagine what type you know what Taipei's is right. I mean it's huge city it's it's big stuff going on. And when you think about Taiwan and what their wonderful cities do I mean they're all over the place with what they can do and the capacity you think of Mitchell South Dakota. You know we we feel that intelligent communities are born out of crisis typically or opportunity. So what was their crisis and I don't want to do them an injustice. But generally what the crux of it is I took it was they had the Corn Palace but that represented who they were they were an agricultural community based in the corn industry.

Dana McDaniel: Obviously agricultural industry is high tech but they like many of us were losing their youth to other cities. So they wanted to take a look at how do they reposition themselves in this global market in this global world and economy and really focused on the knowledge worker and how do they bring knowledge workers and retain them and or attract them in Mitchell, South Dakota, and it is a great story about how they achieve that and some of it was through broadband and connectivity and the ability to participate in a broadband economy. They have a beautiful story and as it were and not only a story but results and it landed them as one of the top seven communities in the world as judged and determined by the Intelligent Community Forum. But one thing I would like people to understand is that every year they have this, we tease and call it a beauty contest. But it's -- but it is an idea of measuring yourself against these benchmarks these indicators in the story against that and what difference it's made.

Dana McDaniel: Well there are about 400 cities a year from across the world that apply for this recognition and from Mitchell, South Dakota, to be recognized like that is significant. So back to your question that's what applies to small communities or it does apply to small communities as much as it does the very large communities.

Christopher Mitchell: Well it is wonderful to see an organization take seriously the large and the small because we were just watching your presentation this morning about the mid-size and smaller cities in Ohio and how people might think when you hear Rust Belt you might think Cleveland, Cincinnati. I often think of a place in Pennsylvania. But there's a number of other areas that aren't doing as well when actually Cleveland and Cincinnati are doing better than people might assume. It's the mid-size and smaller cities. I think they're almost always passed over and ignored.

Dana McDaniel: Right. And you know that that whole Rust Belt image that we've all been trying to shake. Certainly we went through the rusting of it all that we were really tried to reposition ourselves as the trust built. And it's a very different economy than it was back in the day I loved the -- I wish folks could have seen this and maybe you'll be able to show the slide somehow someday. But they showed Allentown Pennsylvania

Christopher Mitchell: Where I was born.

Dana McDaniel: Is that right? Why. You know what came to mind was Billy Joel is downtown Allentown which I love. And in that story that he told in that song but yet Allen Townes population has just been re-surging compared to all those other former Rust Belt cities although many of those are doing well too. But I just thought that was really cool when you think about that when all that long ago I was in the 80s right when that song came out. And in telling that story and here they are my family is one of the ones that left in the early 90s.

Christopher Mitchell: Is that right. And a Minnesota boy I love it there. Let me let me turn back to Dublin and let's talk about the doublings. Just a brief description of what it is.

Dana McDaniel: Yes so when you think about crisis our crisis was really born out of the opportunity side. But it was still a crisis nonetheless. So I've been around the city now for 29 years so I always bring that up. But I'm an old guy now but I've been here that long but back in the mid-90s if you think about the Telecommunications Act of 96 at that time we were one of the fastest growing cities in Ohio if not in the country at that time and we had just done$70 million of improvements in some roadway. And we had these office buildings coming out of the ground.

Dana McDaniel: And then we had to tell the deregulation of the telecommunications industry and all we could envision was our new roads being cut up over and over. So at the time it was crisis to protect our investment in the right of way because we were afraid they were going to build out their customers one customer at a time which meant how many cuts in the street and so it was a right of way management initiative initially.

Christopher Mitchell: For people who aren't aware the cut is a problem with just aesthetics?

Dana McDaniel: Well it's part of that we had put in this new road system and I could take you to that one road and we've grown so much since then but that one significant branch road is called Boulevard that we did in front of our legacy office parks which you know were in the process of reinventing those two now. But if you think about that at that time we built this new road beautiful roads system beautifully landscaped and yeah we could just picture this thing being cut up and then when you're cutting up your roads you're degrading the integrity of the road and your investment in your public infrastructure has its lifecycle is less every time you cut that pavement. So and at the time boring technology wasn't what it is today we envision road cuts and trenches and all that so. So what we want to do is protect us. We're going to do a right of way management policy which was later adopted really on a regional basis and then we franchised out a conduit system which actually an intern of mine at the time named it DubLink and it was a conduit system.

Speaker 10: And then what happened later a couple of years after that we had the telecom bust and we had companies you know we had not we but the industry had warehouses full of full of fiber sitting unused because of the bust. So the company who put in the conduits system. So the official company and now and then doublings LLC and then they have another subsidiary called Columbus FiberNet where they built we had this conduit system known as DubLink was about 25 miles long and then they put in another hundred miles of that around the whole region where they came to us and said look for dimes on the dollar we can sell you fiber optics.

Dana McDaniel: So would you like to buy fiber optics Well in exchange for letting them build the conduit system. We've got one pipe. So then we said okay for $3.2 million, we've got 125 miles of fiber optics in that one pipe that we owned. And from that we started learning the value of how to interconnect buildings as an economic development tool. We learned to interconnect our own buildings for institutional use and the cost avoidance that we experienced by running our own fiber optic system for our own facilities. And then later we learned the value of subleasing dark fiber. So I'll give you though the so-what did that story sort at the end of the day I can actually attach over 15,000 jobs, attracted retained or expanded in the city of Dublin directly tied to that fiber system. Our lease revenues over the course of those lease agreements will bring us and nearly $3 million. And then our cost avoidance per year is approaching about $200,000 a year times almost 20 years. We've been doing that add all that up. The income tax we get off of those jobs relative the economic development portion of that. We've got about at this point about five and a half approaching $6 million in the system. Our return on investment is over $40 million.

Christopher Mitchell: That doesn't even begin to account from sure efficiencies you've seen as a local government

Dana McDaniel: You can't even quantify that really at this point but there's a lot of them. So that's a great story of crisis borne out and just learning and really the Institute and the ICF movement involvement in that. The ICF indicators really became a context by which then we did economic development and how we did it and how we needed to connect in and function as a city in this global economy.

Dana McDaniel: But then the institute piece of this is we've spent the last 20 years learning this stuff. What a shame for not sharing our lessons -- not that we have all the answers because we're learning. The other thing I'll add to that in the context of us having that system that system is only in our commercial area so it's not in our residential area and we're not running a fiber optic system to all of our residents. Now we are providing 100 gigabit backbone now access to businesses who want to access it. We have we have established this as a research backbone. We're connected into the Ohio Supercomputer Center and in the Ohio Supercomputer [Center] we have a National Science Foundation GENI Rack. So we have companies accessing it for research as well as to the other reasons I told you but we're also fortunate and I don't want to miss this point that we have multiple providers in town. So I have as many as three providers competing in our residential areas and we have many more than that competing in a high density commercial area. So we're fortunate to have that.

Christopher Mitchell: Even though the conduit doesn't go throughout all of the residential areas it has lowered the cost of investment for competing firms so they've invested more themselves because the conduit has gotten them closer to the neighborhoods I'm guessing.

Dana McDaniel: I think there's some truth to that. In the case of some of those especially those who are serving the commercial area because they could come in and lease conduit and not have to engineer it not have to build it themselves. They could lease it. You know some would argue we haven't changed the price on that leasing since it was built in the late 90s, and some would argue well that's that's that's expensive and some are incumbents who just don't want to be in it. But there are a number of those who want to be in it and have deployed in the other conduits and not to mention those who are leasing off of us and all of that by the way is tied into a local -- to local data centers and then in regional data centers as well. So we have a presence in all these data centers so that really helps us we can help facilitate connecting individual companies no matter how big or small you are into a data center where you can cross connect and pick and choose your provider.

Christopher Mitchell: So just to make sure I have a clear picture there is a firm called DubLink and they have a bunch of conduit within that conduit. You have one can do it with a lot of fiber and you can leave that out but you're also making other services available as well.

Dana McDaniel: Correct so we can lease that I split that fiber bundle into into thirds. So a third of it is institutional use which we use for ourselves and will allow other governmental entities to access it as an example word. We're deploying a 100 gigabit fiber optic right now and connecting up all of Dublin City schools. So there'll be a hundred gigabit backbone our Washington Township who overlays us and provides fire service they're connected to it. We're opening up this new US 33 corridor autonomous and connected vehicle court or in cooperation with the city of Marysville and Union County to our north and west with players like Honda and the Ohio State University the Transportation Research Center the U.S. DOT Ohio Department Transportation. We're building a new backbone up there but it's connecting back into our backbone and our data center so that's gives you an idea of the institutional use we sublease.

Dana McDaniel: Like I said in any other thing we do. The other third of that. So that one third is institutional use one third is is is just dark fiber leasing and the other third is what I call economic development and we actually hand off fiber strands to companies. So as an example we have a regional hospital system that has multiple facilities throughout central Ohio. Their entire system operates on our backbone and then we have some of our other corporate entities in Dublin who may have multiple facilities in Dublin or multiple facilities in the region and they operate on our backbone. And by doing that they can experience the cost avoidance model. So there's one other sort of twist to that. And while we've allocated fiber to these larger companies you know became apparent to us that the small company the small medium sized business who keeps their server in the broom closet like I did as a city can actually get their server down the street into an M Plus 2 environment.

Dana McDaniel: They can go down if they want to see the lights blinking on the server I call it and not to make fun of I.T. folks but I tease him about that. They can go down the street and see it it doesn't have to be in the broom closet and it's in this great environment. So we have gotten into extending in the commercial district fiber optics from our backbone into buildings into multi-tenant buildings and then positioned ourselves as a sort of a middleman if you will that that can backhaul the data or the Internet service back to the data center where the small business can come into a data center they can put their server in that data center.

Dana McDaniel: So we give them commercial real estate space if you will for their server in that local data center. And when that's in there they can cross connect and pick from them. I think the numbers up to 13 different providers. So imagine the power of being able to leverage 13 different providers you know you can switch providers routinely If you want. And then we have the ability to crank that up on a hundred gigabit capacity pipe that we have we actually have 100 gig ability there. And so we can push that out to the small and medium sized businesses so it works well for us because we have a lot of R&D companies in town who really want to access that. So we're we're we're in the process of leveraging all of that now that's a long story Chris but that's how all these pieces and parts are working together.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah I mean that's that's the bit about history is the longer you go the more you have to. It's hard -- one last question that I'm curious about is expansion. How you prioritize where to expand if you had any challenges with city council not wanting to reinvest or questioning how to reinvest.

Dana McDaniel: Tell you our city council is only one way to describe it. And this goes back now for multiple city councils back into the '90s. All I can say about our council says they get it they just get it now was proof of concept and I have to give them credit they took they took a leap of faith back in the day when we had the opportunity. But I think we saw the opportunity we were able to explain how to leverage it for our own use and then the opportunity to leverage it for other uses came along and you know we strike a tough balance between what what is our role as a city and what is the role of the industry and try to play together well with them. Sometimes that goes well sometimes not so well. But we we work at it.

Dana McDaniel: Now I've talked a lot about the system being available in our commercial area. We have expanded into the residential areas because we're hooking up our schools it's not been our intent to go out and serve the residential area. But what I will tell you I find interesting as we survey our our community every other year, every third year and have been doing that now for a lot of years and we put a battery of questions in there about their broadband service and what we've seen over time and these snapshots of the survey is that their satisfaction rate with their upload download speeds is decreasing. And while it's still relatively good you can see that falling off. Well in this last year, our Chief Information Officer Doug McCollough started engaging some some residents who came to us telling us they were not satisfied with their with their service in the residential areas so we have been having a dialogue with them about why is that.

Dana McDaniel: What does that mean. How can we facilitate the dialogue with the industry to try to make that concern known. So we're having we're in a process of that dialogue. So it's going to be interesting to see where that goes and where that takes us. I think it's important you know we have to address that. You know we talk about the change of the worker. You know the worker is going to change and we need to be supportive of that and we have a lot of people in our city as I'm sure many other cities do that work out of their home. They need that high level service. We've got to make sure it's there.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I'll say the hotel I stayed in last night I'm guessing is near doubling. The AC hotel and the Internet speed was one of the best I've seen it was not as good as the hotel in the city of Chattanooga owns and pumps up an incredible way. But it was I think the second or third best hotel I've stayed up for Internet access. So you're doing something right.

Dana McDaniel: Well by the way you mentioned Chattanooga quite a few times this morning and you know Chattanooga is an ICF community and they were a top seven community when we were. And I would you know Chattanooga really the former mayor there really embraced the ICF movement and I think it I think it had somewhat to do, or helpful with, and helped to inform a lot of what they're doing with their broadband but yeah that they're an incredible case of how to leverage that. And they've done a great job.

Christopher Mitchell: Alright. Well thank you so much for your time today. Thanks for inviting me to get a sense of what it's like here. It's been a great time.

Dana McDaniel: Well it's been great having you. And we learned a lot from you today and hope you'll come back and join us again. Oh I'm pretty sure I will. That

Lisa Gonzalez: was Christopher talking with Dana McDaniel about DubLink in Dublin, Ohio, and the Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community. Be sure to check out MuniNetworks for more on Dublin and DubLink. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at MuniNetworks.org/broadbandbits. E-mail us at podcasts@MuniNetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter his handle is @CommunityNets. Follow MuniNetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other

ILSR podcasts: Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ILSR.org. Thank you Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 278 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.