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Atlanta’s next big dream: Huge Internet system to spur development, improve lifestyle

David Pendered
Smart City

By David Pendered

Atlanta has never been at a loss for big dreams, and the latest project maintains tradition. The city intends to develop a huge Internet system that will do everything from locate gunshots to spark development in blighted neighborhoods.

Smart City

Smart Cities will reflect the preferences of local residents and will share one thing in common: Infrastructure that will host fiber optic and wireless communication devices that power the Internet of Things, according to one company in the market, Adtell Integration. Credit: adtellintegration.com

The city plans to find private partners to help launch, operate and maintain a, “next-generation ‘Smart City’” project that is to, “enhance government performance and enable residents, organizations, educational institutions and businesses to engage more effectively and actively with the City.”

Atlanta doesn’t appear to intend to invest a dime in the creation of the system, other than to grant access to city-owned property and new infrastructure that’s being built with proceeds of transportation sales tax revenues, according to the city’s request for proposals. As in, Atlanta would grant access to street poles for the installation of Internet of Things technology.

It’s hard to identify a city agency that isn’t to be part of this expansive effort.

Of course the Atlanta BeltLine is on the list. As is Atlanta’s airport, the fire/rescue and police departments, the Atlanta Housing Authority and all the transportation projects funded by transportation taxes as part of the Renew Atlanta program. The departments that maintain streets and sewers and manage information are potential beneficiaries, as well.

Of particular note, Atlanta wants to focus Internet innovations in certain Tax Allocation Districts. Atlanta has 10 TADs and six of them are listed as “paused” on a report by Invest Atlanta.

It’s not clear which TADs are part of the Internet vision and the city’s RFP says only that, “certain tax allocation districts” are to be included in the development of an Internet system. This system is to establish connectivity in, “commercial districts, industrial corridors, school/education institutions, underserved communities and market rate communities.”

Hollowell Parkway, decay

Atlanta intends to improve blighted neighborhoods, such as some along Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, with a massive effort to increase the connectivity of devices via the Internet. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

The RFP does not address who is expected to use the connectivity. A 2015 Census report shows computers are in the homes, nationwide, of just two of three households with an income of $25,000 or less. By definition, TADs encompass areas of blight – including some areas where household incomes are below $25,000 a year, according to an interactive map at city-data.com.

The RFP is equally vague on who wants the unspecified TADs wired for IoT purposes. This is the language in the document:

  • “City partners are interested in the development of a fiber network within the tax allocation districts to provide to-premise, fiber-to-end user connectivity, or any other technology to connect commercial districts, commercial and industrial corridors, and low-income residential communities as well as address data needs with minimum gigabit targets.”

Of note, the project appears to be advancing before there’s been much public discussion over who benefits, and who is harmed, by technology that, for example, will prevent the homeless from picking food from automated trash bins. A group of Georgia Tech researchers are considering such equity issues and described some in a guest column that appeared in SaportaReport.

All this said, the sky is the limit in the city’s plan to find partners to create this vision that’s to be driven by the Internet of Things – that system of computers and devices that are connected via the Internet in order to share information. The city makes its intention plain in the request for proposals:

  • “It is important to note that the scope of this RFP is broad, and we recognize that all firms will not respond to all areas of interest.”

For starters, Atlanta intends to quintuple its fiber network over the next three years. The goal would increase from the current 50 route miles that exist today to about 250 route miles by 2021.

This IoT network is to respond to community needs that range from traffic management to monitoring infrastructure to enhancing public safety measures. The later involves the locating of gunshots by digesting data gathered by monitors attached to street poles.

The deadline for responses is March 27.

David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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