SCHENECTADY — The city is preparing to deploy a mile-long stretch of fiber-optic cable into Mont Pleasant as part of a sweeping technological initiative.
The City Council’s Public Service and Utilities Committee on Monday voted to accept a bid by an Albany-based contractor to install a fiber line running between the city Fire Department’s main station on Veeder Avenue and Fire Station No. 3 on Third Avenue.
The infrastructure will ideally provide a foundation for a new spate of technological applications in the city’s Mont Pleasant neighborhood as part of the city’s Smart Cities initiative.
At its most basic function, the cable will allow the city to expand its free Wi-Fi service, which is currently available downtown, through the corridor. But more broadly, the deployment along the mile-long strip will serve as an experimental backbone for future applications.
City officials say they will fine-tune components as part of an ultimate goal of deploying 90 miles of fiber citywide.
“We want to make sure what we’re doing works well before an investment that would be citywide,” said city Signal Control Superintendent John Coluccio.
Schupp’s Line Construction provided a bid of $142,638.40.
If the full City Council approves the measure next Monday, Coluccio said deployment will begin in early August, with a deadline of late September.
John DeAugustine, president and publisher of The Daily Gazette, is a member of the city's Smart City Advisory Commission.
Improving connectivity in the city’s neighborhoods is a key driver, he said.
“I think the plan the city has to roll out Smart City tools to everybody in Schenectady, not just the downtown area, is a differentiator between us and all of the Smart Cities across the country,” DeAugustine said. “It should bring wider benefits than most Smart City deployments across the country.”
LONG TIME COMING
The milestone is the first big-ticket development publicly announced by the city this year as part of the Smart Cities effort, an initiative Mayor Gary McCarthy has said will provide “wide-ranging impact and value” for city residents.
At the same time, the city has worked with National Grid to determine which technology will be installed on 4,400 city streetlights as those units are converted to LED technology as part of the Smart City REV Demonstration Project.
Arunkumar Vedhathiri, director of innovation at National Grid, said the poles will be equipped with numerous sensors, including those that will increase or dim lighting, monitor traffic patterns and even gauge emissions in the future, which can aid with large-scale event planning.
“We will over time add more and more layers,” Vedhathiri said.
McCarthy said the devices include an “intelligent mode,” with multiple sensors that will allow the city to turn them on and off as needed, allowing for possible future applications.
Coluccio, for instance, said incoming data will allow the city to make decisions on where to locate electric charging stations.
Smart Cities also has traffic applications — officials envision that analytics and data will improve traffic flow and signal timing — as well as law enforcement uses, including streamlining how city police manage the footage generated from dashboard cameras in patrol cars.
National Grid aims to swap out 2,200 lights by the end of September.
The city also seeks to use technology to drive down its energy costs and, through an unrelated application called Municity5 introduced earlier this spring, streamline work by city code officers while out in the field.
“It’s deployed and we’re using it on a regular basis,” Coluccio said. “There are some growing pains as employees use the program and migrating data is cleaned up.”
Coluccio expects some permits to be created online in the “not-too-distant future.”
McCarthy has said the city’s work is earning recognition at a national level and the city’s Smart City Report was designated as one of the “50 most transformative smart cities projects of the year.”
But the leap hasn’t been without speed bumps.
The city’s online tracker allowing residents to submit pothole complaints hit a snag earlier this winter when The Daily Gazette learned that records chronicling whether road crews had patched the holes are incomplete due to inadequate staff training. The problems have since been corrected.
Officials appear to be clear-eyed about the challenges.
“Developing an all-encompassing Smart City plan is a difficult process and we are faced with many undefined challenges that are part of a complex system of continuously moving parts,” read the 2017 report prepared by the mayor’s office.
The report acknowledged it can be difficult to identify variables to track progress, “but it is also difficult to have the time and resources to identify and explain what those variables mean and how they fit into the bigger picture.”
“However, we strive to effectively communicate our challenges and proposed solutions in an effort to build upon that foundation we have,” the report said.
McCarthy noted the need for public input in his State of the City address in January.
“We will be hosting neighborhood meetings and informational sessions to gather additional feedback on this project,” McCarthy said.
Asked about the status of those meetings on Monday, he said the city aims to hold public informational sessions designed to both educate residents on possible applications and solicit input on protocols once those technologies are deployed.
The plan is to deploy all of the technology included in the initiative by June 2021.
The city has set aside approximately $5 million in its capital budgets over the past three years for the work on Smart Cities, with $2 million included in the budget for 2019.
National Grid has said it will invest approximately $7.6 million over the three-year implementation of the project.