Six towns in the U.S. are getting their acts together to create broadband connectivity hotspots. One of the goals of the project is to spark the creation of innovative applications. Could this approach also work in France ?

In the United States there are currently six separate projects to transform city streets and neighbourhoods into wireless broadband hotspots using fibre optic cables. This is happening in Cleveland, Chattanooga, Lafayette, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Washington. The government also wants to gradually link these zones to each other within a gigantic network called US Ignite, which will offer bandwidths for upload and download of up to 1 GB/second. The authorities hope that this will encourage developers to create applications of benefit to a wider number of people. It remains to be seen whether such an initiative would in France, for example, speed up government-driven open data projects.

Currently of limited benefit to most people

"It’s do-able right now but it would be of limited benefit for most people. Users are calling for e-services relating to public transport and culture, but on a local or regional level, not on a national scale", Jean-Marie Bourgogne, Head of the Montpellier Territoire Numérique (Digital Montpellier) project told L'Atelier. Indeed, according to Bourgogne, although these sorts of measures would help foster operational exchanges between cities, with a few exceptions most applications don’t need broadband: "It would be useful for research, for example, where you need to transfer large volumes of data. Telemedicine could also benefit as we’d be able to send digital images," he pointed out.

Joint funding makes it more attractive

It’s worth noting that in the U.S., in order to promote the development of applications which make full use of fibre optics, the National Science Foundation has decided to award grants to 6 to 8 of the best projects, to the tune of $400,000 each. It’s when we’re talking about how to finance the applications that building large networks could really make sense. "It would be a lot easier to fund good ideas if towns got together and put out joint competitive tenders. That way companies would have a lot more to gain because they’d be able to crack multiple markets all over the country", says Jean-Marie Bourgogne. Towns could also arrange calls for tender on an ongoing basis, thus helping to smoothe out the flow of new applications.