Thursday, March 15, 2007

Aussies and Kiwis sampling Dutch broadband (2)

(c) Elaine Sullivan

The trade Australian and New Zealand delegation went to Almere yesterday to hear more about broadband initiatives. Almere is my hometown so I was also eager to hear what is going on.

It was in October 1998 that I organised a review session for the European Commission in Almere. On the wave of internet the municipality had set up a Cyber Centre. But that year also the Institute of Information Engineering of the Amsterdam College was started. The European Union had at that time a programme Information Engineering and it looked a good idea to combine the review with the start of the new department. It gave the review team an opportunity to tell about the European Commission and the programme and it gave the municipality a chance to expose itself. Despite the horrible weather (perpetual rain and heavy winds) the event was success.

But in the meantime the town has moved on. Now the city is about 30 years old and has some 70.000 houses and almost 200.000 inhabitants. And the city still has to grow to 400.000 inhabitants. The space for building houses is there, but the city will have to be less dependent for labour on Amsterdam and Amsterdam Airport. In order to make the city attractive to live and work, there is now a programme Almere Smart City. The programme intends to streamline present situations, attract new high tech companies and make broadband access for business and residents.

The first phase is fully in swing. Computing and broadband activities of public institutes (municipalities, hospitals, health centres and schools) are being streamlined. The computer operation of Almere hospital has been re-designed and now there are two telephone lines instead of 300. And all the 35 health centres are linked to the hospital by broadband. For consultation with colleagues in Amsterdam medical consultants use conference systems, so that no travel is needed. Also in education there was a big change. All schools are now on broadband. There used to be a server park for the primary and secondary schools; this is now centralised and put into the hands of a professional organisation, using UNIX instead of Windows. By centralising, there is less down-time, as all the programs and the content is on a central computer. It saves schools paying for access and takes a lot of computer work out of the hands of teachers. Also the public library and the municipal offices have fibre connections to the backbone.

The key company for thinking up and executing these activities is Unet, a three year old company with 60 employees. They are a broadband company from day one and they demonstrate it. At their offices in the centre of Almere they have arranged a house of the future, fully equipped with all broadband gadgets possible and with Dutch design furniture. Broadband for this house of the future is all Ethernet based.

(c) Elaine Sullivan

Mr Frank Halsema of Almere Smart City explained that ICT was the driving force for Almere. Every four years a new program will be in force. This has been since 2001. The new plan till 2010 is very ambitious. Almere will work in the framework of the Northern Wing, cooperating especially with Amsterdam and Amsterdam Airport, an area with 1 million inhabitants. But as Amsterdam is growing to its limits, Almere can take over some spill functions and start some new initiatives. So it started up an internet exchange ALM-IX next to the AMS-IX. This has been a reason for Sara, the scientific computer centre, to move partly to Almere. But it also has attracted large data centres to the new town such as the European Service Innovation Centre and the Domestic Competence Centre in cooperation with TNO.

The Smart City programme is looking at creating new jobs in Almere. But it is also looking at keeping people from loosing time in traffic jams on their way to and from Amsterdam every day. One of the largest banks, ING, is starting up an ING Telework Centre.

Despite the fact that many new houses are built in Almere, not all new houses have broadband. But before 2010 all 70.000+ houses will have fibre. Presently 1500 houses and 500 companies have fibre connections. This was a pilot from 2003, which required 3,5 million euro. Wiring up all other houses in Almere will take another 80 million euro. An investor has been found to sink 40 percent of the sum in the project. The operator has been selected and the name will be announced in a couple of week; the name of KPN is rumoured.

From 2001 up till now the municipality of Almere has made an investment in broadband developments of 10 million euro. By now it has attracted a 200+ million euro in equity investment. Besides the city has saved itself 5 million euro in 5 years time by centralising the traffic for schools.

Almost 10 years later Almere has grown from a town into a city , but also from an Internet novice into a leader of high technology. And there is still more to come.

There are three presentations available:
- Amsterdam Internet Exchange;
- Amsterdam CityNet;
- Smart City Almere.
They van be viewed or downloaded from


Blog Posting Number: 693


No comments: