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About Hangstreet

1 year ago

At the end of the recently-opened Expo Line in Los Angeles — and you’ll want to take that snazzy light rail, because the I-10 freeway running between downtown and the coast is one of the 10 most-congested roadways in the world — you’re in Santa Monica, California. You’re at the Colorado Esplanade stop, a stunning platform of pedestrian- and bike-friendly multi-modality that feels open and available. It’s just one of many great things about my hometown. There is the superb weather. There is the beach and the pier. There is street life and the RAND Corporation (“We’re based in Santa Monica because that’s where we were founded, and it suits us”).

And there is the city’s most recent source of civic pride: its street lights and traffic signal poles. Don’t laugh. I think of them as the Colorado Esplanade in the sky.

No, I am not celebrating their function as providers of light. Their real power comes from a transformation — into neutral platforms that provide the tools of connectivity to everyone. Very few American cities (notable exception: Atlanta) have carried out this transmogrification, but every single one will need to. Santa Monica is showing the way: it is a city that will be able to control its future digital destiny, because it is taking a comprehensive, competition-forcing approach to the transmission of data.

Here’s why poles are generally important:

The advanced wireless transmissions (whatever 5G turns out to be) that will be central to our shared digital future, you need access to fiber optic cables at frequent geographic intervals. That fiber, in turn, needs to be “dark” — meaning that it’s unlit by lasers and is just a passive transmission medium that can be traversed by a tsunami of 5G data. And access to that dark fiber needs to be available at a reasonable price.

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