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Broadband bling goes to Dutch region

Eindhoven, the Dutch region rebuilt after ferocious World War II battles there, has won the coveted Intelligent Community of the Year Award for rebuilding its post-industrial economy on an open-innovation model of sharing research, resources and people.

New York-based Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), the independent think tank focusing on broadband-economy development, honored Eindhoven among the seven finalist communities from Europe and North America. Eindhoven follows Suwon, South Korea, last year's recipient, which won based on its world-leading 1Gbps municipal network.

DETAILS ON SUWON: World's fastest muni net wins award

The ICF also named Suvi Linden, Finland's minister of communications and commissioner of the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development, as its Visionary of the Year.

Linden was the driving force behind the Finnish parliament's legislation making broadband access a human right. As of July 10, 2010, ISPs in the country were required to ensure that each citizen has access to at least a 1Mbps connection. Finland's goal is for all residences, offices and public administration facilities to have 100Mbps broadband connections by the end of 2015.

"Finland was the first country in the world to ensure by legislation that all our citizens, irrespective of their place of residence or level of income, have the opportunity to use digital services. A good and reasonably priced Internet connection is now everyone's basic right," Linden said.

The ICF's first ever "Cool Application of the Year" award went to the United States city network in Chattanooga, Tenn., for its new 1Gbps fiber-based network, fastest in the nation. The network now carries 485 municipal applications, prominent among them health and safety functions.

These applications have solved the "first-responders dilemma" of incompatible communication systems. Chattanooga's "smart grid" energy applications allow individually addressable street lights that can be turned off, on, or with variable brightness depending on energy and street security needs, for example in city parks.

Intelligent Communities are rated on five standards -- broadband technology deployment; knowledge workforce participation; innovation; digital inclusion; marketing and advocacy. Each year an additional thematic criterion augments the basic standards. In 2010, it was education as "the last mile," and this year it was "Health in the Intelligent Community." Four hundred communities have vied for the top honors in the international event.

Eindhoven's strategic position was fought over, with widespread destruction in World War II. American forces liberated its cities in 1944 as depicted in Richard Attenborough's epic film "A Bridge Too Far."

With a population of 730,000 people and a workforce of 400,000, contemporary Eindhoven has reached the Intelligent Community Top 7 for the last three years. Eindhoven's challenges were met by breakthrough coalition-building between government, academia and private industry.

Responding to a financial crisis brought on by departing industrial companies and global competition, the south Holland region built a development entity called "Brainport," to swing the economy toward R&D and to strengthen the Information and Communications Technology sector.

Initially Brainport was funded by the region's cities with a contribution of about five euros per capita. Functioning as neutral facilitator, Brainport works by sharing private and public resources in incremental, sustained projects that built capacity and preserved employable skills, such as transferring trained people between public and private entities. Once-chronic unemployment in the region has been driven down 90% in 15 years, despite the global economic recession.

Eindhoven's renaissance represents a case study in "Open Innovation." Originally a concept pioneered by American academic Henry Chesbrough in 2003, open innovation has advanced more rapidly in the European community than in the United States. The central idea is collaboration between companies, especially in R&D, cross-licensing of intellectual property, and public-private partnerships on a large scale.

Eindhoven has become one of Europe's major design centers, attracting knowledge workers and continuing Europe's distinguishing contribution to the modern information economy. The region now has prioritized health innovation, aimed at increasing well-being of the aging population, reducing costs, and generating at least 150 new companies employing 10,000 people.

ICF's Louis Zacharilla said, "Eindhoven is the model for a new way of thinking about collaboration and regional development. It has developed an ecosystem that links its private sector, government and its academic and creative communities in a way that looks like an economic 'triple helix.' What has emerged is an extremely efficient local economy that can compete with anyone, anywhere."

Besides Eindhoven, the complete list of 2011 intelligent city finalists includes:

• Chattanooga, Tenn. -- United States

• Dublin, Ohio -- United States

• Issy-les-Moulineaux -- France

• Riverside, Calif. -- United States

• Stratford, Ontario -- Canada

• Windsor-Essex, Ontario -- Canada

The 2012 Intelligent Community of the Year competition opens with nominations in July 2011 with the deadline in fall 2011. Seven new finalists will be announced at the Pacific Telecommunications Council's January 2012 conference in Honolulu. The winner will be named in New York City in spring 2012.

Gillette is professor of information and communication sciences at Ball State University and a senior research fellow at the Digital Policy Institute. He has written extensively on ICT leadership and management, and worked in academic, industry and public policy organizations.

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