The connected city isn’t a new idea, but it is one that is generating a great deal of momentum. Municipalities from coast to coast are recognizing the value of leveraging a wide array of technologies to better serve their constituents. One of the ways that governments are improving their service is to keep citizens in the loop, which is becoming vitally important, according to Bill Schrier, chief information officer for the city of Seattle, who spoke yesterday during the International Wireless Communications Exposition (IWCE 2012).

Seattle operates data.seattle.gov, where citizens can find recent police, fire and EMS reports, crime statistics, and much more. According to Schrier, city officials initially weren’t sold on the idea of sharing such information.

“If you talk to bureaucrats … they have this fear about putting the data out. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to see how much crime there is in their neighborhood or where all the potholes are,’” Schrier said. “We actually haven’t seen that effect. What we have seen is that the real fear of people is not so much of the crime, but of the unknown. And sometimes what they discover is that their neighborhood isn’t so bad after all.”

Even if the neighborhood is dicey, the knowledge gained through access to crime data can help citizens protect themselves by forming neighborhood watch groups, Schrier said, adding that knowing specifically what crimes to be on the lookout for helps the cause considerably. “You need to give people the tools they need to help themselves,” he said.

Indeed, the essence of the connected city is the exchange of data between citizens and government agencies. The big challenge of this is that a connected city tends to generate an enormous amount of data. For that reason, Schrier said that it is imperative that fiber extends to every home and business, despite the advent of wireless broadband.

“Wireless has a lot of bandwidth, but the bandwidth that’s available with fiber — a hundred megabits a second or a gigabit second to every device in a home or business — the applications you could have would be phenomenal,” he said.

Some cities might shudder at the thought of a major fiber deployment, especially from a cost perspective. The city of Boston isn’t one of them, said Don Denning, public-safety CIO.

“We have a number of permitting ordinances, and one of them says that if you open the street to lay fiber for yourself, you have to lay fiber for us too,” Denning said. “We force our cable provider, through their licensing agreement, to give us so much dark fiber that can be lit later.”

Seattle takes a similar approach, Schrier said, adding that the city also has leveraged public/private partnerships to meet its needs in this regard. For example, the city’s electrical utility was doing a major repair of the historic Pioneer Square district that involved tearing up the streets and installing new electrical cables. Schrier saw an opportunity.

“We put in extra conduit and then put out a bid for Internet service providers to provide services to private businesses,” he said. “Comcast won that bid, pulled fiber through that city government conduit and now is providing high-speed Internet to 50 businesses in Pioneer Square. There is an economic-development principle at work there, but it’s also a partnership.”