Plans to Make Dallas a ‘Smart City'

Dallas leaders see dollars signs from a planned city-owned fiber network serving places that private companies have not

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City leaders want Dallas to be a “Smart City” with wireless internet access everywhere. The plans were discussed Monday at a briefing for the City Council Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Right now, the city’s free Wi-Fi is limited to certain areas with more to be added by the end of the year, but Monday’s discussion was about a very big picture for the future and it has city council members seeing dollar signs.

Many future connections could work through the proposed city network.

“This is so exciting. And I think it’s the beginning in many ways of a really huge amount of data and important changes for our city,” Council Member Jaynie Schultz said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic when kids were forced to stay home, the North-South digital divide in Dallas became a greater problem.

Private companies decline to provide high-speed fiber internet in some portions of Dallas. In other cases, families could afford the service that was available.

“Southeast Dallas is one of the areas that has some of the largest percentages of households with children that lack internet access,” City Councilman Jaime Resendez said.

Now, the Red Cloud neighborhood of Pleasant Grove off Bruton Road in Southeast Dallas is one of the places to receive free WiFi access. 

New streetlights to be erected on newly paved streets in the neighborhood will have WiFi devices added on top. The devices also have cameras with microphones for gunshot detection along with lighting for what has been a high-crime area.

“The Bruton corridor from Masters to St. Augustine has been historically troubled, continues to this day,” said Resendez, who grew up in the area.

He pushed for the new streets and a community upgrade that helped push the Red Cloud neighborhood to the top of the technology list.

“To me, it's about equity and access to opportunity for all. Everyone should be able to reach their full potential and have access to resources as folks in other parts of the city,” Resendez said.

The camera-equipped devices with Artificial Intelligence will not be on the residential side streets off Bruton Road, according to Assist Dallas City Manager Robert Perez.

“We worried about privacy issues about putting cameras down the block. So, at the intersection is where the A-I enabled cameras would be deployed, as well as at the intersections of Masters and St. Augustine,” Perez said.

The Red Cloud neighborhood WiFi network will be connected by fiber optic cable to nearby Fire Station #5 on St. Augustine which would be a connection hub.

“I believe that's going to help a lot of people around here, especially if it's easy to connect. There should be no reason for anybody to say, ‘I can't go to school.’ Even work, it's a big challenge, people work from home,” Red Cloud resident A.J. Rangel said.

The City of Dallas is considering a city-wide fiber-optic network that could connect fire stations or other public buildings as hubs.

Dallas used federal COVID-19 relief money during the pandemic to connect several other underserved neighborhoods to Wi-Fi to help kids keep up with schoolwork.

But now city leaders are thinking much bigger.

“This is really transformational and we need it,” Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said.

Council members and city staff talked about setting up regulations to manage all the data in a "Smart City," all the uses a citywide fiber network might have and the income it might bring for coffers in a city with a very high property tax rate.

Committee Chairman Omar Narvaez said the data network could one day produce enough revenue to reduce the high property tax rate in decades to come, along with closing the digital divide between north and south Dallas.

“It’s something that will benefit our future residents as well as some of the current residents that are still here and so with that, thank you again for all of this. I’m just really excited.” Narvaez told city staff. “Let’s celebrate what we’re doing here as a council because this is very forward-thinking. And let’s show the rest of the nation that Dallas is where it’s at and this is how you do it and do it right.”

For now, the city is just spending money, without revenue it hopes to one day receive if it becomes a “Smart City.”

Officials said $1 million is available for equipment to advance the next phase that would have Red Cloud operating by September.

Another connection to Tietze Park and Wi-Fi-connected traffic signals along Richmond Avenue and Skillman Street to Fire Station 17 will also be included.

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