urban policy

Tone Check & Parker App

Technological innovation is all about making every day life easier and more efficient. To that end, two new technologies have recently caught our attention. The first is called ToneCheck, developed by the Canadian technology firm Lymbix, it claims to check the tone of the language contained in your email. Like spellcheck, which catches all those typos and embarrassing errors, ToneCheck analyzes your completed email and offers a read on the dominant tone, warning when it detects a phrase that might be too aggressive or nasty. Of course, levels of acceptable nastiness vary among emailers, so ToneCheck operates on a sliding scale, letting you set the specific parameters for tolerant language. For now, the service only works as an add-on to Microsoft Outlook, and is free for the first 30 days. You can try it here. The second hassle saving innovation is a smartphone application called the Parker App, offered most recently by the Washington Metro that gives users up to the minute information on the availability of parking spaces in real time. Commuters can download the app to their phone from the Metro website. Then, with the help of new sensor technology on location in the parking lots, the application relays which spaces are still available and for how long. The Parker App is offered by the firm Streetline and was developed in partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. It has previously only been available in L.A., a metropolis that has its fair share of driving and parking headaches. It’s estimated that a large percentage of traffic—some say as high as 30%--is due to drivers looking for parking, and the Parker App, which also offers users information on pricing, time limits, and payment options, might certainly help. Though, as several tech bloggers have pointed out, it might be tricky for drivers to use the app while also complying with local texting and driving laws.

Tone Check & Parker App

Technological innovation is all about making every day life easier and more efficient. To that end, two new technologies have recently caught our attention. The first is called ToneCheck, developed by the Canadian technology firm Lymbix, it claims to check the tone of the language contained in your email. Like spellcheck, which catches all those typos and embarrassing errors, ToneCheck analyzes your completed email and offers a read on the dominant tone, warning when it detects a phrase that might be too aggressive or nasty. Of course, levels of acceptable nastiness vary among emailers, so ToneCheck operates on a sliding scale, letting you set the specific parameters for tolerant language. For now, the service only works as an add-on to Microsoft Outlook, and is free for the first 30 days. You can try it here. The second hassle saving innovation is a smartphone application called the Parker App, offered most recently by the Washington Metro that gives users up to the minute information on the availability of parking spaces in real time. Commuters can download the app to their phone from the Metro website. Then, with the help of new sensor technology on location in the parking lots, the application relays which spaces are still available and for how long. The Parker App is offered by the firm Streetline and was developed in partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. It has previously only been available in L.A., a metropolis that has its fair share of driving and parking headaches. It’s estimated that a large percentage of traffic—some say as high as 30%--is due to drivers looking for parking, and the Parker App, which also offers users information on pricing, time limits, and payment options, might certainly help. Though, as several tech bloggers have pointed out, it might be tricky for drivers to use the app while also complying with local texting and driving laws.

My war on regional digitized road and transport data in Stockholm

During the years 2006 – 2009 when working in the regional public transport I found an lucky opportunity to fill one of my companies most frustrating data black holes with ones and zeros. But you can’t win them all! Listen to my story. You are one year old when you learn to walk, you are five or six when you learn to ride a bike and at least 16 when learning to drive. All of us have as a primary means of traveling - walking (and here I include all in wheelchairs) and even motorists are occasionally forced to leave their car - at least to be able to refuel the car.

Although, since the modern era began, cities has focused on the car's traction, and to be frank , we have built cities such as displacing pedestrians as second-class citizens. When Sweden a few years ago legislated that motorists have an obligation to give way to pedestrians intending to cross the street - then motorists raged and state that this is a traffic hazard!

In wintertime all municipalities in Sweden are carefully plowing the roads. Although, in many of these municipalities leaders has decided that the property owners shall be responsible for clearing snow from sidewalks. How many property owners do you think it is along a normal Swedish roadside - and how likely do you make it a pedestrian is offered a safe and pleasant journey? And bike lanes often proves to be a perfect place for the snow brigade to put aside the snow.

In Sweden, the public exercise of power is highly decentralized and we have a very comprehensive municipal planning monopoly. But there is also very important to have a coherent national road infrastructure. Sweden therefore decided very early that it was important to establish a national database of road network. Yes, that is, the motorist road network, administrated by the National Swedish Road Administration. First on the runway by filling it with content was in fact the forest industry. They used this excellent almost free of charge resource to post their temporary forest roads so that their forest machines and trucks could find their way to all the remote and well hidden places where harvesting is currently underway. See there - an excellent commercial application of one of the society offered national data infrastructures!

In this decentralized Sweden, the municipalities are also responsible for the local road network. Therefore, also the digitization of the local road network has been a local affair and the Swedish Road Administration has therefore never been able to force any municipality neither to gather the data, nor to deliver it anywhere. Of course, the local politicians has limited budgets and if he / she has to choose among local public opinions, the one that demands for digitized road networks has never been particularly vociferous. In fact, even after 14 years of operation, this database NVDB has not yet signed contracts with all Swedish municipalities.

In fact, when NVDB established in 1996, bike lanes were not even on the horizon. Today as the National Traffic Administration offers the possibility after many years of nagging (not the least from me) quite many municipalities have supplied data, but there is still no one offering municipalities an opportunity to store a digitized pedestrian lane database.

I used to work in SL, the Stockholm County Public Transportation Authority, and there I was responsible for the development of Internet and mobile services. Such a core service is the travel planner. SL's network is an integrated intermodal network that spans 26 municipalities and, yes, you already understand the problem. All the county has actually delivered the digitized road network and that means that all players, especially yellow pages business and Garmin and TomTom etc have been able to develop great services. But in public transport you are totally dependent on that the footpaths are digitized - for all public transport passengers must get to and from stations and bus stops. For SL, the lack of an across municipal boundaries associated digitized pedestrian network the travel planner becoming increasingly a problem as customers always expect better and more advanced services.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw78Pwtg38w&w=425&h=350]

A few years ago when Stockholm won the opportunity to host the ITS World Congress, I saw an opportunity to change this. I put on the top of my (read SL) wish list a coherent and digitized route network for walking and biking. I quite easily in these collaborative surrounding of the National Swedish Road Administration, the National Swedish Rail Administration, The National Swedish Transport Administration, the City of Stockholm, the National Swedish Railway Company and many, many other stakeholders found friends of the mission, realizing the importance of this. Mobility services for people with impairments, police and rescue services must be found to the door even on local private pedestrian areas in closed yards, the postal service must even find doors in the z-axis, so this should be a easy piece, I thought. I built relations with ALL, and all agreed on the importance of access to such data - but no one was willing to either take responsibility or to share responsibility, this includes my former employer.

In despair I went to one of the largest commercial global players in GIS. They had a great interest - to map the inner city of Stockholm on the basis of the business traveler's perspective ... but could not see any profit to make in the mapping of walking paths in the Stockholm archipelago. No luck again.

Finally I found one guy with the same burning fire inside for the same thing as me, he ran the exact same question from one of the largest and leading infrastructure consultancy firms, actually he was the CEO of a large subsidiary specializing in GIS.

Today he is no longer there and still today you cannot find a coherent pedestrian and bicycle road network in this county.

This, ladies and gentlemen, this is my biggest carrier failure. And I indeed take it very personal.

- Åke Lindström, Market Director Kista Science City

My war on regional digitized road and transport data in Stockholm

During the years 2006 – 2009 when working in the regional public transport I found an lucky opportunity to fill one of my companies most frustrating data black holes with ones and zeros. But you can’t win them all! Listen to my story. You are one year old when you learn to walk, you are five or six when you learn to ride a bike and at least 16 when learning to drive. All of us have as a primary means of traveling - walking (and here I include all in wheelchairs) and even motorists are occasionally forced to leave their car - at least to be able to refuel the car.

Although, since the modern era began, cities has focused on the car's traction, and to be frank , we have built cities such as displacing pedestrians as second-class citizens. When Sweden a few years ago legislated that motorists have an obligation to give way to pedestrians intending to cross the street - then motorists raged and state that this is a traffic hazard!

In wintertime all municipalities in Sweden are carefully plowing the roads. Although, in many of these municipalities leaders has decided that the property owners shall be responsible for clearing snow from sidewalks. How many property owners do you think it is along a normal Swedish roadside - and how likely do you make it a pedestrian is offered a safe and pleasant journey? And bike lanes often proves to be a perfect place for the snow brigade to put aside the snow.

In Sweden, the public exercise of power is highly decentralized and we have a very comprehensive municipal planning monopoly. But there is also very important to have a coherent national road infrastructure. Sweden therefore decided very early that it was important to establish a national database of road network. Yes, that is, the motorist road network, administrated by the National Swedish Road Administration. First on the runway by filling it with content was in fact the forest industry. They used this excellent almost free of charge resource to post their temporary forest roads so that their forest machines and trucks could find their way to all the remote and well hidden places where harvesting is currently underway. See there - an excellent commercial application of one of the society offered national data infrastructures!

In this decentralized Sweden, the municipalities are also responsible for the local road network. Therefore, also the digitization of the local road network has been a local affair and the Swedish Road Administration has therefore never been able to force any municipality neither to gather the data, nor to deliver it anywhere. Of course, the local politicians has limited budgets and if he / she has to choose among local public opinions, the one that demands for digitized road networks has never been particularly vociferous. In fact, even after 14 years of operation, this database NVDB has not yet signed contracts with all Swedish municipalities.

In fact, when NVDB established in 1996, bike lanes were not even on the horizon. Today as the National Traffic Administration offers the possibility after many years of nagging (not the least from me) quite many municipalities have supplied data, but there is still no one offering municipalities an opportunity to store a digitized pedestrian lane database.

I used to work in SL, the Stockholm County Public Transportation Authority, and there I was responsible for the development of Internet and mobile services. Such a core service is the travel planner. SL's network is an integrated intermodal network that spans 26 municipalities and, yes, you already understand the problem. All the county has actually delivered the digitized road network and that means that all players, especially yellow pages business and Garmin and TomTom etc have been able to develop great services. But in public transport you are totally dependent on that the footpaths are digitized - for all public transport passengers must get to and from stations and bus stops. For SL, the lack of an across municipal boundaries associated digitized pedestrian network the travel planner becoming increasingly a problem as customers always expect better and more advanced services.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw78Pwtg38w&w=425&h=350]

A few years ago when Stockholm won the opportunity to host the ITS World Congress, I saw an opportunity to change this. I put on the top of my (read SL) wish list a coherent and digitized route network for walking and biking. I quite easily in these collaborative surrounding of the National Swedish Road Administration, the National Swedish Rail Administration, The National Swedish Transport Administration, the City of Stockholm, the National Swedish Railway Company and many, many other stakeholders found friends of the mission, realizing the importance of this. Mobility services for people with impairments, police and rescue services must be found to the door even on local private pedestrian areas in closed yards, the postal service must even find doors in the z-axis, so this should be a easy piece, I thought. I built relations with ALL, and all agreed on the importance of access to such data - but no one was willing to either take responsibility or to share responsibility, this includes my former employer.

In despair I went to one of the largest commercial global players in GIS. They had a great interest - to map the inner city of Stockholm on the basis of the business traveler's perspective ... but could not see any profit to make in the mapping of walking paths in the Stockholm archipelago. No luck again.

Finally I found one guy with the same burning fire inside for the same thing as me, he ran the exact same question from one of the largest and leading infrastructure consultancy firms, actually he was the CEO of a large subsidiary specializing in GIS.

Today he is no longer there and still today you cannot find a coherent pedestrian and bicycle road network in this county.

This, ladies and gentlemen, this is my biggest carrier failure. And I indeed take it very personal.

- Åke Lindström, Market Director Kista Science City

The Vector Project Visioning Workshop.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsDLzqWGrQk&w=425&h=350] At our Summit on Service Innovation last week in Copenhagen we ran 9 parallel Visioning Workshops, such as the one facilitated by Neil Clavin and Maya Wiseman on their Vector Project Showcase. The above video was edited by Viktorija Prak, a very talented student supporting Neil and Maya in the workshop, in which business leaders, strategists, researchers and cities invented new urban technologies to redefine the role of bikes in our cities.

Connecting cities: a Cluster.eu interview with Sascha Haselmayer

Cluster.eu, a great online and published magazine, gave me some challenging questions about our book "Connected Cities: Your 256 Billion Euro Dividend". Read it here - Connecting cities: an interview with Sascha Haselmayer.

New York City Aims to Improve the Lives of Elderly

The challenges associated with growing old in some of the world's largest, fastest, most-intimidating cities are not new. Crumbling side-walks, inaccessible public restrooms, stoplights that favor cars over pedestrians are problems that can be found in most modern 21st century cities. It's for these reasons precisely that New York Cities most recent attempts to soften up its streets, making it a kinder, friendlier place for cities to live out their golden years. Though the initiative may be bold for a city that has long staked its reputation on it's fast-paced, young and pulsating energy, overall the initiative is incredibly smart; As New York's deputy mayor for Health and Human services puts it, “New York has become a safer city, and we have such richness of parks and culture that we’re becoming a senior retirement destination. They come not only with their minds and their bodies; they come with their pocketbooks.”

Though the city's modifications to infrastructure may seem menial, it seems that elderly residents are quite responsive. These include: extending walk time for pedestrians at more than 400 stoplights across the city, introducing senior-centered art classes in conjunction with city subsidized artist grant programs, providing school buses for common errands such as trips to the grocery store, and creating two specific aging-improvement districts that will be markedly safer and more accessible for seniors.

These improvements are just the tip of the iceberg of an initiative that hopes to drastically improve the daily life of seniors. As an outsider, I find the effort admirable. In recognizing that retiring to a old folks home to live the end of life years is a bit antiquated, the city itself is bearing up and taking on some of the responsibility.

Keen readers can learn more about the initiative here.

Future of Biking: Copenhagen Calls for Innovations

Copenhagen has one of the world’s most ambitious local climate policies, striving to become a zero-emission community by the year 2025. To achieve this commitment, the city already has put several measures and lines of investment into motion, actively collaborating with companies and technology experts. Together with Living Labs Global, the City of Copenhagen invites innovators, researchers and companies to present innovative mobility solutions that help to achieve the goal of integrating Bicycles fully into a new intelligent and integrated transport system for the city. Already today, more than 55% of residents in Copenhagen use the bicycle daily, creating opportunities for new applications of IT in entertainment and safety, but also to address the several barriers that continue to exist between the excellent public transport system and bicycle uses.

Call for Pilots: The future of biking in Copenhagen.

As a result, Copenhagen is inviting companies and organisations from around the world to present their solutions for a pilot this autumn (deadline 31st of August) to evaluate impact of new systems, policies, technologies or planning tools to achieve the goal of an attractive and fully integrated inter-modal transport system, incorporating the large percentage of bicycle usage.

Solutions can address, but do not need to be limited to, the following challenges:

  • Can bike paths be smarter and indicate dangers such as frost, indicate congestion or incorporate sensors to monitor activities and respond to usage needs and link to traffic light systems offering green waves for cyclists?
  • Can technology in bicycles such as health sensors, location information, theft protection, entertainment and fitness monitors be applied for entertainment, wellbeing, security and other purposes?
  • Can mobile services link bicycles and riders to social networks, provide news and updates, to pre-book bikes or reserve parking, to plan routes and other activities?
  • Can we integrate bicycle rides to get to destinations with other modes of public transport to give more inter-modal options for commuters?
  • Can we improve bicycle parking around key intersections and meeting points?
  • Can the health and well-being impact of bicycles be maximised and monitored in the city?
  • How can we improve security and safety in relation to bicycles?
  • Can we invent intelligent or smarter clothing to deal with different weather conditions and at the same time integrate into daily activities?
  • Can bicycles replace "service vehicles" for craftsmen in the inner city?
  • What can Copenhagen do for bicycle tourism?

Submitting your solution for a Pilot is simple:

  • Submit or update your Showcase at www.livinglabs-global.com/showcase for free to publish a short description of your solution. Submission Deadline: August 31st 2010.
  • Choose "Apply for a pilot of my Showcase in Copenhagen in autumn 2010".
  • Answer a short application form for evaluation.
  • The City of Copenhagen and Living Labs Global will announce results by September 15th 2010. You will receive a short report on the evaluation results.
  • If successful, you will enter discussions with the City of Copenhagen on implementation of the pilot immediately after selection. Pilots should be running at the latest on November 15th 2010 and run for around 1-6 months.

Registering Mobile Phones to Cut Crime, Kenya

Kenya has announced plans to register all mobile phone numbers in an attempt to diminish crime.From now on users will have to supply proof of address and identity documents before they can get a phone number, while any numbers unregistered by the end of July will be disconnected. Many individuals support this new law as they believe it will make it generally more difficult for criminals to carry out crimes; this law specifically targets kidnapping gangs that often use unidentified cell phones to carry out their deeds.

Kenyan officials believe that the new legislative move is necessary as cell phones can now be utilized as computers. Explicitly, Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere says of the risks and associated with mobile phones: "It has become a tool of banking, it can be used to steal data, [to] transmit unauthorised information and perpetrates huge frauds."

Notably, the legislation is made less controversial by an comparable program which was adopted by Tanzania in the last year. Moreover, critics of the program note that implementation of such a service in Tanzania may be more difficult as individuals may not have a fixed address to which they can register their phone.

What's new in Mobile Health?

I've rounded up a number of interesting mobile health gadgets that have emerged on the market over the last 6 months. Here are a collection of self-explanatory videos which give us a pretty good glimpse at how these gadgets work and how they can be used. Check them out below: MedApps A mobile outpatient monitoring solution that proactively alerts doctors and nurses to potential health problems. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txSnlKzbn18&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xd0d0d0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

LookTel An application that helps the visually impaired recognize objects.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFPsF8GBfqE&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xd0d0d0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

PillPhone A mobile application that helps consumers better manage their medication. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAIhxha8FOw&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xd0d0d0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

Net Neutrality

Two weeks ago, the acclaimed journalist Terry Gross, interviewed Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Schatz about the question of net neutrality and the challenge to regulate the internet in anticipation of US congress's upcoming meetings to discuss current telecommunication laws (last reviewed in 1996 when the internet was hardly discussed); earlier last month the Federal Communications Commission announced that it plans to reclassify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service so that high-speed Internet would be closely monitored by the FCC; This reclassification would also give the FCC control over net neutrality, the idea that information on the Web should be treated equally and cannot be blocked by broadband providers. The interview is insightful and probing and is worth reading in its own right. When pressed, Schatz tries to break down how this reassessment and re-regulation could change our internet experience.

Read the transcript from the interview below to get the scoop: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The law hasn't kept up with new technology. Consider the Internet and broadband technology. The Communications Act of 1934 gave the FCC responsibility to oversee phone lines and airwaves. When the law was updated in 1996, it hardly mentioned the Internet. Now there's the question of whether Internet traffic should be regulated by the FCC, something the telecom industry opposes and many consumer groups and Internet companies support.

Yesterday, two Democrats, Senator John D. Rockefeller and Congressman Henry Waxman announced that they plan to hold meetings next month to begin the process of updating the Communications Act so that it directly addresses broadband service.

Amy Schatz covers technology policy and the FCC for the Wall Street Journal. We asked her to explain why this issue was important and what's at stake.

Amy Schatz, welcome to FRESH AIR. Before we get to the details of what each side wants, frame the debate for us. What are the principles that are being fought over now regarding regulation of the Internet?

Ms. AMY SCHATZ (Journalist, Wall Street Journal): Well, this comes down to an issue that's been bubbling in D.C. for a while and around the country and it's this idea of net neutrality. And the idea of net neutrality is really: What kind of regulations can be on the Internet? What can phone and cable companies do to your Internet lines? And can they do anything to your traffic or is -basically the idea here is that: Who's going to control those lines that go into your house? And there's never really been any rules that sort of talk expressly to Internet lines because we've always kind of relied on rules that were on phone. But it really gets into a really big issue as more Americans use the Internet to either make phone calls or watch movies or just connect with their kids and email and things like that. And so it's becoming a really, really big issue.

GROSS: So it's kind of like who controls the Internet? Is it the phone companies? Is it the government? Is it the FCC? And the communications laws that we have, do they say anything about that?

Ms. SCHATZ: Yeah, the communications laws we have were actually made in 1930s, so - and they've been updated a few times since then, but even the last time they were rewritten was back in 1996 and the Internet was barely even around at that point and it wasn't really mentioned in the law. And so the laws that they're relying on now are so old and really aren't written for the Internet. So that's one of the issues that they've been running into as they've tried to apply these rules to these new Internet lines, is that they weren't really written for those. They were written for the very specific things that happened with phones or cable lines. And so that's where they're running into a lot of problems, because this was just never meant to be this way and they were never meant to try to apply them this way, and so it's just been a very awkward fit.

GROSS: So let's get to the FCC. What is the FCC considering doing in terms of regulating the Internet?

Ms. SCHATZ: So they're basically talking about regulating Internet lines, and there's a difference between - because the FCC chairman, who gets really sort of offended when people say, oh, he wants to regulate the Internet. What they're really - and there's a difference because they are lines that Internet traffic go over and then there's the Internet traffic. And so they're really talking about the lines, the physical lines that come into your house or the little airwaves that are coming into your cell phone or your iPhone.

They're basically talking about just ensuring that there are rules in place that prevents companies from discriminating against other companies' traffic. And so that if there's data coming into your house, Comcast can't mess with it and they can't block you from doing things. They can't slow the traffic to make your experience really bad. And so the FCC's basically proposed some rules to give them power to stop that kind of behavior from happening.

GROSS: So the position the FCC is in now in trying to decide if and how it will try to regulate the Internet is connected to a suit that the FCC lost, where the FCC had challenged Comcast and then Comcast challenged the FCC. Would you describe what that case was about?

Ms. SCHATZ: Sure. So a couple of years ago there was a network engineer name Robb Topolski, and Robb was trying to download some movies or music or something by these peer-to-peer sharing services like BitTorrent, where it's just a way to share a really large file. (Unintelligible) Robb was having problems downloading something. And so being a network engineer and actually understanding how to do this stuff, he looked into it and figured out that Comcast was blocking traffic and that they were actually - not necessarily blocking, but they were doing something very technical to slow traffic and it was just causing him not to be able to download stuff, and this was happening across the country.

And so a group of sort of public interest groups investigated this and concluded that in fact Comcast was slowing traffic. And so they filed a complaint with the FCC and the FCC looked into it and said, yup, Comcast wasn't telling anybody what was going on and they were deliberately slowing traffic. And so they basically slapped Comcast on the wrist and said you're not allowed to do this and - because you're violating our net neutrality principles - and cut it out. And so Comcast said, well, the FCC didn't kind of go through all the administrative stuff that you have to go through to sanction somebody, and they took them to court and they said, look, the FCC doesn't have rules. They only have these like weird principles they came up with years ago, and you can't do this stuff.

And a district court recently concluded that in fact Comcast was right. The FCC had not done what they should've been doing to sort of adequately enforce their principles, because you can't enforce a principle, you can only enforce a rule. It gets very complicated. But bottom line is the court basically said, you know, the FCC, you're going to have to come back to us and explain this to us and justify what you do a little bit better.

GROSS: So the court didn't say that the FCC has no authority to do this. It said it - applied - it took the wrong approach...

Ms. SCHATZ: Exactly.

GROSS: ...and it needs to come back and figure out a better approach if it wants to ensure net neutrality.

Ms. SCHATZ: Exactly. They just basically said you need to do a do-over. That, you know, the way you tried it didn't work for us and that if you want to try to do this again, you know, knock yourselves out, but to try to find to do it a different way. And that's what the FCC's trying to do.

GROSS: So what are some consumer groups' fears about the Internet being controlled by the phone companies with no regulation?

Ms. SCHATZ: So, for net neutrality, it comes down to two issues; and for consumer groups they're really concerned that the Comcasts and the AT&Ts of the world are going to restrict what consumers can do in their homes and what they can access on the Internet. So there's a fear that if Comcast cuts a deal with Amazon that you may not be able to buy a book from Barnes & Noble as easily as you could buy it from Amazon.com. You know, it's not necessarily happening right now, but there is a fear that if you give too much power to the phone and cable companies over the lines that are coming into consumers' homes, that that could be really bad for consumers and it will restrict consumer choice.

GROSS: And a lot of Internet companies want some regulation as well. Companies like Google, for instance, and Amazon. So what are their concerns?

Ms. SCHATZ: That gets to the other side of the net neutrality debate, because I've always considered that a sort of two-prong thing here. One is the consumer side and the other side is really the business side. And companies like Amazon, or Google, or eBay don't want phone companies putting up toll booths basically in between them and consumers. And they don't want the Comcast of the world or AT&T or whomever to be able to charge them more to reach you. And so they want to make sure that the FCC or somebody is in the way to prevent that from happening and really changing the way that the Internet has acted in the past, which is the Internet was designed as sort of this best effort system, which is that, you know, they were going to make the best effort they can to get the little packets to your PC but they don't really guarantee the delivery of those little packets.

And so, you know, one of the things that the phone and cable companies have been looking at is trying to offer sort of guaranteed delivery - which would be sort of like a UPS overnight service, versus just your regular mail service. And, you know, so there are pros and cons to that but the Internet companies like Google are really concerned that they're going to get hit up for extra money on the back end.

GROSS: Okay. Meanwhile, the telecom companies don't want any regulation. What are their concerns?

Ms. SCHATZ: One of the reasons why is because, you know, these networks - you know, the Internet, the way it was built, it's a fairly complicated thing and they don't want government regulators coming in and telling them how they can, you know, run their lines or what they can do with their lines. You know, we went through - a couple years ago the FCC was looking into this issue and there was this big public hearing out in Stanford. And during this hearing it was like three, four hours long. And in the middle of it, you know, you had all these FCC commissioners who were basically, you know, some of them were lawyers, some not. And they were listening to all these network engineers try to explain to them how packets would go over these Internet lines and these networks and pinging and all this other stuff. And it got to the point where, you know, I covered the stuff. I'm pretty good at this but even I was hopelessly lost. And you could see every FCC commissioner was hopelessly lost too.

This gets really really complicated. And so, you know, for the phone companies or the cable companies who were basically trying to sell you the service and make as money as they can off of the service, they don't want the government coming in and telling them well, you have to run your packet this way or something because they're concerned that government won't be able to keep up with industry and what they're having to do with these networks as they're trying to grow them and make your speed faster.

GROSS: I think one of the concerns of the telecom companies is that they've made investments in the Internet based on the premise that the government wouldn't regulate it. Now they think it's unfair that those investments might be compromised in some way if the government changes their minds and decides it's going to regulate the Internet.

Ms. SCHATZ: And that's the major concern. It sort of depends. It's a sort of matter of degrees and how much control does the government want to have over what kind of practices they are doing. And so, you know, if you listen to some of the lobbying and you listen to some of the hand-wringing that's going on with Comcast and everybody - they're saying that the FCC wants to run all their lines. You know, they want to run all the network traffic and do all this stuff, and that's not necessarily the case. Basically what the FCC and the Obama administration are really saying is that, you know, somebody has to be the cop on the beat here. Someone has to have the authority to stop bad practices if they start happening and if that's the case, then it needs to be the FCC.

GROSS: Well, I'll tell you what, let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more about net neutrality. My guest is Amy Schatz of the Wall Street Journal.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Amy Schatz of the Wall Street Journal. She has been reporting for about five years on the telecom industry, tech policy and the FCC, and we're talking about net neutrality, which is basically the requirement that interest providers treat all net traffic equally and not charge more for certain transmissions.

As the FCC is trying to figure out what if anything it wants to do on the issue of net neutrality, it's also dealing with a big report - a 360 report it released in March, on what's wrong with the U.S. broadband and with proposals for expanding Internet service. What are some of the things that we should know about that are proposed in that report?

Ms. SCHATZ: So the idea of this was that there's a general feeling that the U.S. is falling behind in the Internet and that although we have more subscribers to the Internet than I think anyone in the world, if you look at it on a per capita basis, that we're really more down in the 15th, about 15th in the world range. And so there's a thought that, you know, we need to do something to make sure that every American can get online at a pretty fast rate of speed and that it's not too expensive for them. And so, I think really the two main things that they really talked about in this report was that they need more airwaves, because more Americans are using cell phones as really as Internet browsers.

You know, you often replace your laptop or your PC at home with looking at things on your iPhone or your other smartphone and as anybody who has an iPhone in an urban area can tell you, there could be some congestion sometimes and you might need a few more airwaves out there. And so the FCC said, you know, we really need some more airwaves, because the growth in this is just going to explode. If you think it's bad now it's going to get 10 times worse in the next couple of years. And so they said well, we have to find some more airwaves. And one big chunk of airwaves that they think would suit quite well for this would be the airwaves that are being used right now by a lot of TV broadcasters because TV broadcasters got great airwaves because they want to ensure that everybody can see the TV and that you could watch TV in your basement if you wanted to.

And so the TV broadcasters gave up, you know, a lot of airwaves a couple of years ago when we all transitioned to digital TV. But the FCC says that they could probably give up a few more, especially in urban areas on the East Coast and other areas where you know, you are seeing a lot of congestion. The other big thing they said was like, you know, we really have to change the federal subsidy plan that we have which pays for phone service. It subsidizes phone service in really rural areas where it can cost you an unbelievable amount of money to reach a branch or something. And so they said, you know, look, this is great. We've been using this for phone lines but this is crazy because most people are using wireless phones now. And so we should really change this plan to pay for broadband instead.

The other big thing here is that they're going to say well, look, and this fund is $8 billion a year and it's paid for by everybody out of their phone bill. It's called the USF fee. And the USF fee is like a buck or two bucks on every phone bill every month, and they're going to use that money, instead of paying for phone lines or to subsidize phone lines, they're going to subsidize broadband instead.

GROSS: Would you say we're at a turning point now and that we're - that America is on the verge of deciding what the future of the Internet is going to look like?

Ms. SCHATZ: It is in a lot of ways and I think one thing that a lot of folks really feel like, they just want faster more reliable cheaper broadband lines. You know, it's gotten to the point where if you don't have broadband in your house you're falling behind. You know, I live in the District of Columbia and I realized this week that I can't even go to the DMV anymore to reregister my car. I can only do it online. And they're - increasingly across the country people are finding this. And that if you don't have broadband service people aren't going to come to your community. They're not going to move there if they can't get decent broadband. And so it's something that so many Americans now rely on broadband. It's just an integral part of their lives. Whether it's for keeping in touch with their kids or, you know, watching the news or just finding out what's going on or playing games or whatever. You know, it's just hard to imagine at this point, you know, going back to a pre-Internet world.

GROSS: So that raises the question, should the Internet be like a public utility since people rely on it for their job searches, their home searches, their news reading, their communications with family?

Ms. SCHATZ: Yeah. And that kind of gets back to the idea of net neutrality too, which is this idea that, you know, it is a public good and it is sort of like a public utility, even though it was paid for by private companies and that someone has to be there to ensure that people have access to it. And, you know, the FCC is sort of struggling with this a little bit, but they're trying to sort of figure out a way to make sure that people in parts of the country who don't have Internet access right now - and they're a lot of people out there, probably about 23 percent of, I think it was 23 percent of households who don't even have Internet - high-speed Internet service.

There's still one megabit per second less in terms of speed, which is practically crawling at this point. You can barely get on some of these Internet sites if you don't have - if you've got speed that slow. And so, you know, one of the things that the FCC is really trying to do is sort of bring this up to a public utility level. This idea that it's important to have electricity and it's important to have running water and it's really important to have Internet service. And they're sort of elevating it to that level.

GROSS: Well. Amy Schatz, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. SCHATZ: Thanks for having me on.

Common Sense Air Sensors

Berkeley, California--Researchers at Intel Research and UC Berkeley have been experimenting with mobile air sensors in California in an effort to map air quality in the bay area. We've written about similar efforts before, namely the effort to map air quality with Sensaris sensors in Copenhagen (check out the live feed on the Copenahagen Layer here.), but I like this project because it's been around for a few years. Therefore, you can actually see the ebb and flow of air quality in metropolitan area as populations grow and transport systems change. Check out the youtube video below, it makes the science behind the sensors particularly accessible. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yco5It4r3c&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

Using Cell Phones as Traffic Sensors

UC Berkeley and Nokia researchers used GPS-enabled cell phones to test a technology that could soon transform the way drivers navigate through traffic. Detractors, of course, are concerned about the privacy issues that arise from using GPS technology in cell phones in a pervasive manner. Check out the video below to learn how GPS in mobile phones could replace stationary sensors to predict and monitor traffic flows through urban centers, minimizing the costs currently associated with sensor infrastructure. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOi5nGCJ1YI&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

Our Handbook on Innovation in Services and Mobility in Cities - "Connected Cities: Your 256 Billion Euro Dividend" - now out!

We are pleased to announce that our new Handbook on Service Innovation in Cities is now out, published by the DesignLondon at the Royal College of Art. The result of a collaborative effort involving more than 20 contributors, the book presents rich original data and serves as a resource for professionals from both public and private sectors, as well as entrepreneurs, engaged in the complex yet potentially profitable market for service innovations in cities.

You can flick through and order the book now at Amazon (UK), Amazon (US).

Mobility is not a technology, but a paradigm shift. The user, as citizen, professional, or visitor is in a state of mobility represented by the ubiquity of mobile phones in our society. Why this book asks, have highly appreciated services like mobile parking, tourism services, or solutions for the visually impaired not taken off despite the astronomical investments into digital infrastructures in the past decade? Why, have these infrastructures not had the productivity impact that the internet had on our economies, when more than 60% of the world population have access to them?

256 Billion Euro is the sum of opportunity presented in this book, following real business cases and examples of mobility and service innovations in cities. Drawing on the rich insights of Living Labs Global, the book illustrates what defines the market for mobility, neglected by many for its complexity. It logically structures the market opportunities, frustrations and successes, and actors that make or break success into a coherent call for action to fundamentally change how we deliver services in cities.
This book reveals important insights for public leaders, local politicians, service professionals in public and private organisations, entrepreneurs, technology experts, consultants and researchers interested in promoting innovation and excellence in cities today.

Reinventing Detroit

Another gem via Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution: Aaron Renn of the NewGeography.com writes about urban regeneration in Detroit in his article entitled Detroit: Urban Laboratory and the New American Frontier This article is worth reading for the images and metrics alone. And it's not to be missed, if you're curious about urban farming movements, the 'shrinking cities' movement, and rust belt chic.

Here is one particularly memorable quotation from Renn's hopeful yet, oft depressing, article:

About 80 percent of the residents of Detroit buy their food at the one thousand convenience stores, party stores, liquor stores, and gas stations in the city. There is such a dire shortage of protein in the city that Glemie Dean Beasley, a seventy-year-old retired truck driver, is able to augment his Social Security by selling raccoon carcasses (twelve dollars a piece, serves a family of four) from animals he has treed and shot at undisclosed hunting grounds around the city. Pelts are ten dollars each. Pheasants are also abundant in the city and are occasionally harvested for dinner.

Read the full article here.

Sant Cugat del Valles wins European Public Sector Award

Last night the mayor of Sant Cugat, a Strategic Member of Living Labs Global, Lluis Recoder and Vice-Mayor Jordi Joly i Lena were rewarded for the city's effort in the past years to develop a new economic management model for the city. "PACTE" is a strategic agreement between the political and management leadership of the city to use strategic maps and management goals to create a more transparent, efficient and innovative public administration. http://v.wordpress.com/yMAamDpC

The European Public Sector Award, or EPSA, recognised Sant Cugat ahead of national government programmes from Denmark and the UK, as well as the City of Lausanne as the leading European example of "Leadership and Management of Change".

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umeC-87lrPM&w=400&h=245]

Sant Cugat is a Category Partner for the Living Labs Global Showcase Award, underlining the city's commitment to excellence in management and continuing innovation in the effort to become a sustainable high technology community.

Read more on Jordi Joly's Blog on Politic and Management.

More Garbage Collection

Here's an addendum to the previous trash post, take a look at this paper co-authored by Hai-Lang Yang of Iowa State University and Robert Innes of the University of Arizona in the Journal of Environmental and Resource Economics in 2007----In an accessible manner, the paper gets at three of the policies that have driven Taiwan's aggressive waste management program, namely, unit-pricing in Taipei, mandatory recycling in Kaohsiung, and a federally mandated plastic bag chare.  Although the paper is slightly outdated, it gives a worthwhile overview of the collective impact of policy initiatives and their impacts on behavior as indicated by the following metrics:  total waste, total recycling, and the recycling of four specific materials, all measured by weight per capita.

Taking out the Trash, the Taiwan Way

Beethoven’s “Für Elise” plays in the background. Neighbours brush shoulders, composting table scraps, separating out plastics into the accompanying recycling truck and ditch their own garbage, bags in hand, into the truck’s basin.

This is a daily scene in Taiwan.  This is not just some fab ‘permaculturist’s’ utopian dream. This is the way you take out the trash.  There is no curb-side checking on this small island.

Taiwan’s musical garbage trucks and aggressive waste management program, however, is more than a novel anecdote to the rest of the world’s sometimes slovenly, certainly more pedestrian systems.  It offers us an honest look at where we all might be heading.

Falling short just behind Monaco, Taiwan is the second most densely populated country in the world:  Some 23 million people crowd out 30,000 square kilometres, placing precious many demands on natural resources, forcing Taiwan’s federal government to be the most eager recyclers in Asia and early adopters in general; cycling through different payment systems and systems of penalization before arriving at the most recent permutation in garbage collection. For better or worse, Taiwan’s policies serve as a test bed or pilot for the rest of us.  They are making the hard decisions that the rest of us have delayed.

I am not the first foreigner to write about garbage collection in Taiwan---American students studying in Taiwan write about learning how to recycle, foreigners chat about the ice cream garbage truck, Taiwanese romanticize it as a community building exercise, a daily rite, an intersection of socio-economic classes; perhaps former community organizer, POTUS should have rallied around the trashcan?

Neither here nor there----For me, it’s like airing your dirty laundry. Taking out the trash says a lot about how you spend your days.

As usual, there’s room for improvement, and, um, novel solutions.  Stay tuned for more specifics on this policy.

From 'Hack the System' to 'Apps for Democracy'

Talk to anybody involved in public policy within municipal governments today and they are likely to talk in laudatory terms (perhaps tinged with envy) about Washington D.C.’s  arguably brilliant Apps for Democracy Contest (APPS08).  What exactly is the APPS08 initiative? Peter Corbett, the iStrategy Labs founder and CEO and the architect behind this initiative, gives us a quick overview of the program itself in the Apps for Democracy Living Labs Global Showcase:

The City of Washington, DC needed a better way to make DC. Government’s revolutionary Data Catalogue (http://data.octo.dc.gov) useful for the citizens, visitors, businesses and government agencies of Washington, DC. The Data Catalogue contains all manner of open public data featuring real-time crime feeds, school test scores, and poverty indicators, and is the most comprehensive of its kind in the world.

We knew that the old way of spending millions of taxpayer dollars with big, slow contractors was a broken model in need of fixing. Our answer was to hold an innovation contest where we put the data in the hands of our talented citizens, and gave them cash prizes and recognition for their efforts in developing technology for their neighbours and city government. We therefore created Apps for Democracy.

This contest cost Washington, DC $50,000 and returned 47 iPhone, Facebook and web applications with an estimated value in excess of $2,300,000 to the city. This figure was provided by DC’s Office of Chief Technology Officer as a sum of the individual costs to develop the apps, plus the internal human resources that it would have cost the city to procure and manage the project. That’s a 4000%+ ROI.

For a more detailed overview, visit the APPS08 showcase on the Living Labs Global Showcase portal and stay tuned for the Apps for Democracy Community Edition Showcase;  the public is still waiting on the results from the second edition of the competition which focused on user-driven development and community services, specifically non-emergency service interfacing.   

Having read about the program extensively and having spoken with Mr. Corbett directly, it’s obvious that everything about the APPS08 initiative was exceptional and hardly the norm in policy development.  Even as cities attempt to mimic the effort, I wonder whether they’ll quite succeed.

Corbett tells me that the project developed from an unassuming meeting with D.C.’s former CTO and the current federal CIO, Vivek Kundra.  Because Corbett’s reputation ‘as a guy who knows how to do weird things with technology’ preceded him, Vivek challenged him to do something with D.C.’s rich data reservoirs.  And thus, the APPS08 project was born (note: he originally suggested naming the project Hack the System. Smartly, Kundra thought Apps for Democracy more appropriate.) After an exceedingly fast 30 days of program development, the project was launched----this is a precedent that copy-cat policy initiatives have yet to top.

And indeed, Corbett seems to have unleashed a renaissance-like shift in policy development towards democratized data and open value creation processes.  This July, NYC announced their ‘Big Apple Apps Competition.’  In Chicago, I heard whispers of a similarly inspired program.

Just chatting with Corbett, you get the sense that he’s pretty likeable—straightforward and productively impatient—and he is honestly trying to figure out a good way to ‘drive innovation down into the least served communities.’ Yet, Corbett and his ideas machine have brought on a few detractors.  Corbett tells me that the private sector is a bit dismayed by the initiative and they don’t know how to ‘exact their input in this because they can’t see beyond selling their stuff to the community.’  One critic went so far as to confide to Corbett that the program feels ‘anti-business and populist.’ Reflecting upon this last claim, Corbett asserts ‘I know it’s pro-citizen, and that’s all I Know.’ 

Citizens have got to be a little optimistic when policymakers all over the world are taking cues from this change-agent.

Readers Note:  Earlier last month, the public policy academic, Phillip Mueller, wrote a probing piece on his blog titled ‘The Logic of Open Value Creation.'  In it, Mueller, mulls over the role open value creation mechanisms can play in opening up government processes, thinning the separation between government bodies, policy and their constituents.  It’s certainly worth reading.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for the follow-up post due sometime later this month.  Want to learn more about iStrategy Lab or the Apps for Democracy initiative? Check out http://www.appsfordemocracy.org/citizen-engagement-through-apps-for-democracy-community-edition/.