Community Connectivity: Why A Fiber Optic Network is Necessary to Memphis

Information Technology is changing the way organizations around the world are doing business. Wireless, IP telephony and other network solutions are being utilized to improve safety, enhance services and generate educational excellence. However, many organizations are using technology in isolation – they are connected internally, but lack the community connectivity that can foster innovation and collaboration across a variety of different organizations and industries, as well as drive a competitive economy.

Right now, organizations in Memphis are no different. As a community we have not yet laid the ground work to foster a creative and shared spirit through a connected optical network. For example, the National Lambda Rail and Internet2, two networks of high speed optical fiber for data sharing among universities, are not available in the Memphis area. We have many cutting-edge companies in health care, orthopedics, logistics and bioscience that would benefit through greater connectivity with each other and with those in an educational and research setting.

Imagine students in Memphis schools watching live surgeries being performed via streaming video and asking questions of the surgical team in real time; or health care organizations sharing large files of medical data on patients, ultimately improving the quality of care; or even researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital being able to monitor their experiments from the comfort of their own home utilizing video technology. A connected fiber optic network can provide all of these and more. By utilizing a regional broadband network with innovative applications and services, we can change the way Memphians work, live and learn. Organizations can share vital information and resources and collaborate on initiatives that otherwise would not have been possible.

Memphis could benefit tremendously by following the example of the OneCommunity broadband model in Ohio. Over the last three years, OneCommunity has extended and expanded the reach of broadband services throughout Cleveland and northeast Ohio. However, OneCommunity differentiates itself from other network providers because it is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to creating public-private partnerships that share information and provide collaboration. Ultimately, it works to address social priorities and drive economic development within the region.

Since its inception, OneCommunity has connected government, education, social services, health care, research, arts, cultural and other community institutions. It has enabled regional hospitals to provide local students with live streaming footage of medical procedures; doctors can examine patients via remote sensors and then instruct patients via laptops on how to control their medical conditions; low-income residents are able to access government services and benefits. Communities around the world are using OneCommunity as the model for connectivity and community innovation. Not only is this a good model for innovation, it is one that can be easily implemented in Memphis.

We already have the fiber optic network in place here to facilitate this type of community connectivity. We also have innovative organizations that would benefit from a shared, community network. What we lack is the leadership and strategic vision to bring this project to fruition. In the long run, this lack of leadership and strategy will cause us to fall behind other more-connected cities in attracting new businesses to the area. We need to come together as “one” community to discuss creating an integrated, regional IT plan that promotes interconnectivity and regional development.

The Memphis Bioworks Foundation is already in the process of creating a collaborative optical community in the UT-Baptist Research Park that will make it unique from almost every other research park in the country. This interoperable community will promote innovation among the bioscience organizations already committed to moving into the research park, and will attract other corporations. This type of data sharing capability will not only help position the UT-Baptist Research Park as a unique and innovative center for research, it will help Memphis grow a globally competitive regional economy.


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