How Technology Infrastructure Changed Our Small City

No comments

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, Mooresville, North Carolina, Commissioner Lisa Qualls shares big ideas about how broadband technology changed her town. Have a similar big idea to share? We are currently accepting speaker submissions for the 2016 Big Ideas for Small Cities event to be held at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 16-19, 2016.

Mooresville Commissioner Lisa Qualls speaks about the role technology has played in placing her small town in North Carolina at the forefront of technological innovation.

What are the project goals?

The City of Mooresville made the decision to establish high speed Internet as a basic utility to which all citizens have access. Through a robust technology infrastructure, the city will better equip its students, citizens, and businesses with the tools necessary compete in a global market. Schools will have access to the fastest Internet speeds available and each student in the district will receive a school issued laptop or tablet. Additionally, the strong data network provides low-cost Internet to citizens and businesses, fostering economic development, supporting municipal planning, and even enhancing disaster relief.

How was the project executed?

In 2007, the City of Mooresville bought a local cable company after it went up for sale.  Mooresville and its neighboring communities filed to jointly buy the company for $64 million. After a lengthy process, the coalition of cities gained control of the company and its fiber optic network. That same year, the Mooresville School District began its “21st Century Digital Conversion.”

Having secured access to a high speed telecommunications network, Mooresville sought advice and help from industry experts like Apple and Discovery education. In keeping with the education goals outlined above, Mac Book computers and iPads have been leased annually from Apple on three or four year contracts. The funding for this equipment and software updates comes through city and school district budgets and is partially offset by reductions in costs for textbooks. Additionally, the district has received grants to support equipment costs or for various upgrades from sources including Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Despite state education funding cuts, the Mooresville School District is able to maintain over 5,000 laptops and tablets and support a large IT staff. Although the school district has grown in the population served, the use of one-to-one technology has been an essential factor in managing increasing class sizes – in some cases increases of 50 percent. The city also has partnered with local Internet service provider My Connection to offer broadband service at home for as little as $9.99 a month and to offer the service free to families with children eligible for free or reduced cost meals.

What are the results from this initiative?

Since beginning this venture, the city has received acclaim for its actions, including from President Obama who visited the local middle school in 2013. Students from kindergarten to grade 12 each have their own computer and every classroom has wireless Internet access. Graduation rates have risen and the city has seen a dramatic reduction in the performance gap between black and white students and between wealthy and poor students.

In other areas, Mooresville also used its enhanced GIS technology to help Niagara Bottling Company find a new home in existing facilities just outside of Mooresville. All city parks and municipal buildings offer public access Wi-Fi to 100mbps while sports venues webhost live footage of youth sports so that out of town parents can watch their children play.

Presented at the NLC Congress of Cities 2015
NLC Contact: Brooks Rainwater
Director, City Solutions and Applied Research

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.