For those of us old enough to remember, the only way to cross the country from shore to shore used to be the new legendary Route 66.

But something happened to Route 66, something that was cataclysmic, something that remove it from its position as being “the” route. Much like cities and towns that were obsoleted when the stagecoach route gave way to the railroads and the cities and towns that grew up around the railroads had to give way to the decimation caused by rise of the automobile Route 66 lost its attraction when the Interstate highway system was finished. Towns that had been vibrant almost overnight became boarded up, closed down as the traffic that used to supply their local economy with a steady flow of people traveling in both directions who needed meals or gasoline along the way.

Today we face a new highway that is going to continue this evolution and this time it won’t be as clearly defined by an arbitrary geographical line drawn by politicians that decided who would benefit as well as who would lose. No, this time it will be up to each of us to choose what kind of infrastructure will run in and out of our locations. At the same time this shift will not bring many of the challenges we have traditionally seen in the past. There won’t be a problem with noise as the trains or perhaps the tractor trailer trucks generate, decreasing the quality of life for some but not for others usually clearly defined by economic lines in a community. Nor will there be a very visible change to our homes as happened as huge concrete beltways were erected in neighborhoods where families had once lived. No, this time we will be building virtual highways of differing qualities and putting them to all kinds of uses.

What needs to be closely looked at is how we set this type of infrastructure in place, whether it will be built with an eye towards the future and how the most people can benefit for the lowest overall cost. One challenge I see is how our poorer communities will be able to match (or even beat) the locations that have the economic clout to deploy the state-of-the-art networks that will enable this country to succeed in this new millennium.

The challenge is just as much about the business model, the applications as well as the technology that will be employed even more than what the dollars necessary to build mean to the quality of the results we will enjoy. This is an opportunity for innovation to trump economics as we look at many of the options that are now available as well as the ones that will present themselves. This is the key point to remember, how we envision and then execute our plans will be what determine which location will be the showplace of the future.

One point I am constantly reminded of is that fact that this new challenge is one that will provide some of the areas in this country a distinct advantage over others. We will be building virtual locations, places where geography will not be as important as it once was. Think of it like now a city in the middle of the Rocky Mountains will now have the capacity to be a new “seaport” or a transportation hub but for information this time around. There are areas in this country that have incredible lifestyles to offer but because of their location or proximity to what used to be important advantages may now become the choicest places to live as they can now offer this incredible quality of life at costs that make them the better choice of a place to live because one can live there without drowning in debt. As this new dynamic becomes known I see a shift in what will become the “best” places to live and an equal shift in the value of real estate in many locations as geographic location no longer dictates what kind of job one can have.

The same holds true to where many companies will base their locations. As the ability to live in close proximity to the office becomes less important, many companies will choose to relocate to areas where the cost to keep their physical address will be more dependent on the cost of real estate as well as the local tax rate – as long as there is good, reliable and inexpensive connectivity.

This will be the challenge of our generation – connectivity.

The great unknown as we look from today’s perspective is what is the correct business model and technology for each case we try to apply these facts to will be the best. In fact, the question of is there really a “best” needs to be looked at. The “best” is not what is the only right way to do something as so many things seem to be today, it is more of a case that the “best” means what is best for the local community.

Is it better to build a network that needs to be paid for over a 20 year period or should this be a effort that will start off with a very modest investment and be continually rework as newer technologies become available? Is there a need to connectivity everywhere or will a line to each home suffice? What kinds of speeds and capacities should we be looking at putting in place? There is no “right” answer and that’s really the rub. There is only the answer that is right for your community.

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of attending the MuniWireless Show in Atlanta where many of these issues were taken on from all perspectives. Whether you are in charge of a large project like Los Angeles or Philadelphia you have many of the same issue as your counterpart in any small city in the world. I’m sure you know that the infrastructure will be put in place in your community or you will eventually live in this millennium’s equivalent of Route 66 – and let’s face it, nobody wants to be the mayor of a city that’s only claim to fame is using more plywood to board up their windows than anywhere else.

Thankfully there is another show that will help people get the necessary information they need so they can make this decisions intelligently. In case you were unaware, there is what promises to be another great show for those of you that would find a Midwest location convenient. The First National Summit for Community Wireless Networks will be from March 31-April 2, 2006 in St. Charles, MO. This is undoubtedly going to be a very good resource for anyone who is either trying to understand this very complicated field or just needs to network with people in this field. The cost of this event is very reasonable and in the interest of full disclosure I have been invited to speak at this event – however, it should be noted I will be speaking about the company I work for, CONXX, not as a representative for this show.

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