Today, when cities like Evanston discuss the need for infrastructure improvements, the talk is not limited to the conventions of bridges, roads, and water and sewer pipes. More often, included in that discussion is the state of a community’s electronic infrastructure.
For it is those pipes of bandwidth and those roadways of data bytes that will determine whether Evanston successfully builds a bridge to the 21st Century or whether Evanston will have a bridge to nowhere.
Since the early 20th Century, telecommunications companies in Illinois and other states have sought and been given permission for a fee by the state and local government to use the public right-of-way to provide access for wiring and other utility functions.
As the needs of electronic infrastructure has changed, driven by consumer demand, the State of Illinois has tried to create a balance of providing the regulatory tools to ensure equal access to the best technology for all in a cost-effective way, and the desire of local communities to control their streets and parkways.
The most recent legislation, supported by The Evanston Chamber and all of Evanston’s state delegation, in fact, strengthened the hand of municipalities with respect to siting decisions and gave cities like Evanston the means to ameliorate intrusions to the aesthetic of the streetscape.
Utilities must submit and get approved any construction or installation plans, provide notification to impacted properties, and accept monitoring of the project through to its completion.
Before this state legislation, Evanston consumers were at the mercy of only one cable television/video provider which had a virtual monopoly on service.
The Cable and Video Competition Law of 2007 established uniform state-wide standards and procedures that have accelerated the benefits of video competition. With cable and phone companies now packaging their internet, cable, and phone services, this also means the cost of broadband access drops in true competitive markets.
As a business organization that represents many knowledge-based companies, we need a regulatory environment for technology that encourages competition, investment, and access to a menu of choices.
This is a business issue for our members because today’s working style often means that employees and management are working at home as well as at the office. The workforce of Evanston requires a strong and affordable residential telecommunications infrastructure.
The most recent electronic infrastructure improvements in Evanston are the installation of about 100 Video Ready Access Devices (VRAD) units which will serve as a critical connection between the fiber system, which carries a video signal and the older copper system that brings a signal into a home or business.
This connection will provide better voice communication, faster high-speed internet service, and an advanced Internet Protocol (IP) -based platform for extraordinary possibilities for future communications, business, and entertainment applications.
Most important, the installation of the connectivity units will ensure that all Evanston neighborhoods have access to the best technology available.
Further, instead of building more wires overhead, which are susceptible to severe weather conditions, which intrude across the yards of residents, and which must be physically attached to homes and other buildings; the units being installed, surrounded by landscaping, will have comparatively less visual impact.
As we might expect, there will be specific siting decisions that may impact a particular household more than another. The decision, however, to locate electronic infrastructure at a specific point must be weighed against the benefits the connection will have for literally hundreds of households.
We hope the City of Evanston will continue its fair and open discussion of specific siting locations for the connectivity units.
Recommendations from residents and businesses should be encouraged. Landscaping plans should be implemented with the collaboration of effected residents, and the City of Evanston should thoroughly examine all alternatives that can lessen the visual impact by siting the units in alleys or in less conspicuous locations.
But we also believe that final decisions for those locations must be made with intelligence and with the interest of the community as a whole and not be made based on who screams the loudest.
Jonathan Perman is executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce.